A List of Animals That Mate for Life

Do swans make the list of animals that mate for life?

Question: 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: Pets Adviser 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.

“Monogamy is a myth. Or IS it?”Click to Tweet

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 percent 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!

Photo: jgraham/Flickr

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  • bird toys

    Ha ha! I love it. “Monogamy is a myth”, good for you to give it to him straight. That poor girl will waste years trying to change the that reject hoping she will eventually change his mind. If and when she does, she’ll realize what a mistake she made down the road with the guy.

  • Nicole Trevino

    That response to him couldn’t have been more perfect. He’s an idiot, and I hope he either changed or his girlfriend moved on.

  • bruce

    I thought swallows were on that list?

  • http://joyouscascade.livejournal.com Li Lin

    I love your reply to that ignorant jerk; it was brilliant! Plus, the list of monogamous animals are really helpful.

  • Carlos Mendonca

    In my opinion if you are in love with your girlfriend, you will do absolutely whatever it takes to be with her. When your love is that strong, that is how it works. I believe you are refering to marriages that are based on convenience. And that is why after a while they no longer make sense, therefore they fall appart. Most of the time anyway. Remember, this is just an opinion. I’m not any kind of expert.

  • Emily

    Google anglerfish and I think you will agree that that is most definitely not monogamous.

    • Robin

      I agree with Emily there. I liked your response to the guy asking the question. However, the anglerfish has more of a symbiotic relationship. The males attaches to the female. She uses him for mating purposes, while he feeds on her.

  • Cyndy

    What about the penguin?

    • Alicia

      Penguins are only partially monogumous. Meaning when breeding season comes they will mate with only one other penguin. The next season they usually pick a different one.

      • J.L

        That depends on what species of penguin you’re talking about.
        I have watched several documentaries where they took only one mate for life.

  • InkMe

    The girlfriend doesn’t sound very bright. If she’s trying to marry a guy that is saying monogamy is a myth… well, need I say more, really? That’s basically stating, “I’m going to cheat on you” or “I’m only going to stick around until I get bored with you.” Either way that’s not someone you want to have kids with. The guy sounds like an ass, but at least he’s being honest about it and not leading her on.

  • rose barger

    As is the American blue goose; who not only takes a mate for life, but if something happens to one of the mate, rarely, if at all, will take up with another. Also, the male allows the female to eat first to her fill, and ONLY when she has walked away from the food will he eat what is left over.

    Another little tidbit of info: the male shares in the egg hatching and sits on the nest half of the time also, turning the eggs, etc. This info comes from raising this type breed for several years.

    Here’s a thought… What would a human male of this caliber be worth on the female market today? :O)

  • Upton Goodwin

    It’s pretty cool the way so many birds pick a mate and keep it for life!

    Although one thing to add, most Angelfish (not just French Angelfish) are monogamous! Not only that, but they also will protect their young, which is pretty unique to the fish world!

  • Crys Stephens

    Macaws as well.

  • Kaylin Tate

    Not to burst your bubble, but Swans while having a form of a Monogamous relationships are known to fool around with other mates (particularly Females with other Males) when mating season comes around.

  • Amanda

    Penguins! Why weren’t they mentioned?

  • Julia Bustos Sotelo

    When you have that faith that your marriage will last, it will survive. People start off with such a negative attitude–no wonder they don´t last or forgive one another. I am going on my 50th year and it hasn´t always been a smooth ride, but I like so many others from the past generations believe in fighting for our marriage and being a good example for our children. It makes a different to survive and forgive daily, and believe that the Ten Commandments were God given.

  • GoBlue

    Cheaters always justify themselves by claiming that monogamy is unnatural because males are programmed by evolutionary biology to spread their seed among as many females as possible.

    In that case, why is a man usually horrified instead of thrilled when The Other Woman becomes pregnant?

  • Jamon

    I am a bit sorry to correct you, but wolves are not monogamous, nor are beavers…..beavers form long lasting bonds is true, can last for a decade, but if they can be “Changed” by a more “Fit” individual. Wolves, only the Alfa pair mates, but, alfa male or female can be killed or beat ut by another younger individual thus taking the alpha place. True monogamy is when the pair is exclusive….forever, some species are. When the partner dies they die right after cause sadness

    • groggyduck

      They ARE monogamous though. Monogamy doesn’t mean “one partner for life” it just means “one partner AT A TIME”

    • J.L

      Red wolves are usually lone wolves with packs usually only containing the mated (or alpha depending on which site) male and female with their pups. If one of them dies, the remaining parent then continues to look after the pups until they are old enough to fend for themselves, the remaining parent will then usually die.

      So, in a sense Sarah is right, some species of wolves are monogamous by your definition

  • Ben

    It’s likely that the female ape will cheat because if her mate does die at some point, then she’ll have someone to (re)bond with.

  • Jay

    Wow, it’s so obvious that the case for monogamy among humans was totally lost here, and the questioner has aptly defended his argument against all the romaticizers. The only reason men stay monogamous is because societal pressures. Lots of ersatz arguments here, including feminists defending with the few rare exceptions of female dominance among mammals. I would agree that man has become increasingly monogamous as he hands over the jobs, pants, and purse strings to women. Women now control 70% of consumer purchasing and media programming in corporate America. The fact is there are very few “real” men out there like the questioner.

  • torithenerdywolf

    River otters also usually mate for life :)

  • Makayla pat

    Name more animals like lobsters you dumbo