Monogamy in the Animal Kingdom

Perhaps you know of a few different animals that stay loyal to their partner all their lives. Maybe you follow their example for your love life? In the animal kingdom, monogamy is more a question of survival than romanticism.
Monogamy in the Animal Kingdom

Last update: 17 April, 2020

We’re sorry to have to spoil the fantasy of animals finding their eternal love. It seems that this can only happen with people. Having said that, we are going to tell you a bit more about monogamy in the animal kingdom.

What does monogamy mean for the animal kingdom?

Animals don’t understand the word or term fidelity, and so why do some species practice monogamy? The answer lies with survival and some ‘practical’ issues, meaning it’s easier for them to reproduce with someone they already know.

Emperor penguins.
Source: Fallschirmjäger

Around 90% of bird species practice monogamy, meaning they are the members of the animal kingdom that practice it the most. However, it’s unusual in mammals, as no more than 10% of them stay loyal to the same partner throughout their lives.

Many bird species use monogamy to care for their young. They depend highly on their parents from the moment they’re born until they leave the nest. So, before they pair up, they look for someone who they think will be able to do the job better.

As for penguins, there’s another element. They have to face adverse climates which means both the mother and the father have to incubate their eggs so they don’t get tired. Every year, the couple meets at the same spot on the beach and, after greeting and a mating ritual, reproduction begins.

Furthermore, both these species and black vultures are very ‘jealous’ of their female partners. If they see another male trying to court their mate, they may peck him to death or become aggressive.

Another interesting reason why birds have the same partner is migration or the long distances they have to travel during the season. Albatrosses, for example, return to the same place to breed with the partner they chose at the beginning of their adult life.

Finally, in environments where food is scarce there must be two food providers so that their young can survive and fully develop. While one is incubating the eggs, the other leaves the nest and searches for food and vice versa. They continue to do this after chicks have hatched.

Mammals and monogamy

When it comes to humans, they’re monogamous for many different reasons, particularly, cultural, social or religious reasons. Our closest “cousins”, chimpanzees, are polygamous. A male chimpanzee has a group of females at his disposal.

Gibbons are similar to us. They remain faithful to one partner for their entire lives and both the mother and the father take care of their young. For them, having only one partner avoids fights with competitors and means they can save their energy for other things.

Another example is the dik-dik. These are African antelopes where females are dominant. Therefore, males ‘resign’ themselves to the same female all their lives, instead of using all their energy to do what they want. But only the females take care of their young.

Of course, there’s also a question of teamwork which leads to mammals always meeting the same individual. This is the case, for example, with gray wolves. They hunt in pairs while teaching their cubs to capture their prey.

For their part, beavers will build their burrow with their life partner. When their cubs are born and they help their parents with any necessary repairs. If one of them dies, the other will look for a replacement to continue breeding.

This happens in the vast majority of cases in the animal kingdom, except for the Indian white crane, which is left to die of starvation when it is “widowed”, and the parakeet, which falls into a deep depression and dies shortly after its partner.

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