Thinking Outside the Classroom: Mama knows best |

Thinking Outside the Classroom: Mama knows best

Kate Billups
special to the daily

In many families, mom’s word is the final word. Your dad said you could go to the mall? Well, mom said your room isn’t clean, so you can forget it. My own mother could stop whatever shenanigans my brother and I were into merely with a look and raised eyebrows.

Moms watch over us, make sure we’re fed, and take care of us – and can be fierce and strong in their protection of their kids. And that doesn’t just go for human moms; there are many species of animals that recognize matriarchal leaders, also known as ‘alpha-females.’ Some even reside in our Rocky Mountain environment: Gray wolves, bears, and even some spiders are known for their powerful females, which share traits including aggression, strength, a high tolerance for pain, and intelligence.

Gray wolves operate in packs of five to 15 with an alpha pair – effectively, a mom and a dad – to keep order. The alpha male maintains power through strength and aggression, but the alpha female tends to use more subtle body language and growling to assert her position – although if necessary, she can fight her way back to the top just like the male. The alpha female wolf of a pack is much more likely to be successful in having cubs that will survive and always gets to eat first and as much as she likes with her mate.

No doubt you’ve heard the term ‘mama bear’ before, and it comes straight from the source. Female bears have a policy of not leading and not following. They will fight anything that threatens their cub (including the cub’s father, who sometimes tries to kill and eat his own offspring). In order to protect their young, mother bears establish themselves high in the pecking order of areas where other bears hunt and gather. Female black bears also have a longer life expectancy than males.

When you think ‘black widow,’ do you envision The Avenger – or a tiny sinister spider? Both are strong girls with high expectations of the males who court them. A male widow spider has to contact the female to ask permission to be her mate, and if he shows up unannounced, she’s very likely to eat him. Even if he makes it past that round, she still might have him as a snack after their date. She’ll bite outside her own species as well, so be sure to keep your eyes open for these ominous ladies, which you can spot by their dark color and red ‘hourglass’ mark on their abdomen.

Clearly, females can be a force to be reckoned with, even when they are subtle and small. Never underestimate the strength and power of an alpha mom.

Are you, or do you know, an alpha-mom (or grandma or aunt or other awesome woman) who needs a weekend to relax and recharge? Keystone Science School has created a camp just for you: MOM (Maidens of the Mountains) Camp, running this month at KSS Sept. 14-15. Visit for more information or to register.

Kate Billups is the Summit Cove Elementary After School Coordinator for Keystone Science School. For more information about Keystone Science School, please call us at (970) 468-2098 or visit

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