A List of Animals That Mate for Life

Just to name a few: wolves, termites, beavers, pigeons and swans. OR… is it all just a myth?

Swans are on the list. By: didbygraham
Swans are on the list. By: didbygraham

Someone wrote in with the following question recently:

My live-in girlfriend of several years is bugging me to marry her. She uses the same tired arguments that all women of a certain age use — all her friends are getting married and having babies, she’s not getting any younger, we’re great together, etc.

I try to explain that monogamy is a myth. Animals in the wild don’t mate for life so why should humans? She says plenty of animals pair up for life, but I don’t believe her. And besides, none of those animals live where we live in New York. Will you please explain to her that monogamy is a myth and nothing more than a social construct?

Let me get this straight. Your logic is as follows: Animals don’t mate for life, and humans are animals, so therefore it is unnatural for humans to mate for life. What other animal characteristics do you have? Most creatures bathe rarely, don’t wear shoes and have sex only a few times a year during breeding season.

The only thing I am going to tell your girlfriend is to quit wasting her time on losers like you.

A List of Animals That Mate for Life

There are plenty of examples. Just to name a few:

  • Gibbon apes
  • wolves
  • termites
  • coyotes
  • barn owls
  • beavers
  • bald eagles
  • golden eagles
  • condors
  • swans
  • brolga cranes
  • French angel fish
  • sandhill cranes
  • pigeons
  • prions
  • red-tailed hawks
  • anglerfish
  • ospreys
  • prairie voles
  • black vultures

Some animals, like the black vulture, will actually attack and sometimes kill an unfaithful member of their species.

One of those on the list of animals that mate for life actually lives in Brooklyn, New York. Brooklyn is home to a special breed of parrot, commonly referred to as Quaker Parrots. They apparently arrived here from Argentina in the late 1960s and early ’70s.

Oh, and maybe you should learn that marriage and monogamy are not just for the birds before your girlfriend wises up and dumps you.

Or… Is Monogamy Just a Myth?

Update: Petful did a bit more digging into this subject, and — stop the presses! — there’s more disagreement about animal monogamy than we might think. In fact, David Barash, a psychology professor at the University of Washington, wants to shatter the “myth of monogamy” altogether. He claims that almost every darn reported case of monogamy in the animal kingdom has been proved wrong at some point upon closer inspection, with infidelity by one or both partners in the coupling.

For example, those Gibbon apes that Sarah reported as monogamous above — they’ve totally cheated on each other, according to the professor.

Barash is left to wonder, why is monogamy so incredibly rare in nature? And in particular, he asks himself, why do females cheat in the animal kingdom? “If a female already has a mate to fertilize her eggs, what does she gain” from cheating on her partner, he wonders. There is no easy answer, though reasons might include: food, protection, genetics or just plain old boredom.

Back to humans: According to some statistics, there is infidelity in up to 40% of marriages. But let it be noted that Barash grants people NO excuse to be unfaithful just because it’s apparently in our nature to cheat. “We are never so human as when we behave contrary to our natural inclinations,” he says.

So, go ahead and be contrarian: Be an animal that mates for life!

Sarah Blakemore

View posts by Sarah Blakemore
Sarah Blakemore has been researching and writing about pet care and pet behaviors since 2007. She has cared for many pets over the years and has volunteered with several animal shelters around the world.

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