Monogamy in animals  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Monogamous pairing in animals refers to the natural history of mating systems in which species pair bond to raise offspring. This is associated, usually implicitly, with sexual monogamy.

Monogamous species

While it is difficult to find monogamous relationships in nature, there are a few species which have adopted monogamy with great success. For instance, the prairie vole will mate exclusively with the first female he ever mates with. The vole is extremely loyal and will go as far as to even attack other females that may approach him. This type of behavior has been linked to the hormone vasopressin. This hormone is released when a male mates and cares for young. Due to this hormone's rewarding effects, the male experiences a positive feeling when they maintain a monogamous relationship. To further test this theory, the receptors that control vasopressin were placed into another species of vole that is promiscuous. After this addition, the originally unfaithful voles became monogamous with their selected partner. These very same receptors can be found in human brain, and have been found to vary at the individual level—which could explain why some human males tend to be more loyal than others.

Black vultures stay together as it is more beneficial for their young to be taken care of by both parents. They take turns incubating the eggs, and then supplying their fledglings with food. Black vultures will also attack other vultures that are participating in extra pair copulation, this is an attempt to increase monogamy and decrease promiscuous behavior. Similarly, emperor penguins also stay together to care for their young. This is due to the harshness of the arctic weather, predators and the scarcity of food. One parent will protect the chick, while the other finds food. However, these penguins only remain monogamous until the chick is able to go off on their own. After the chick no longer needs their care, approximately 85% of parents will part ways and typically find a new partner every breeding season.

Hornbills are a socially monogamous bird species that usually only have one mate throughout their lives, much like the prairie vole. The females will close herself up in a nest cavity, sealed with a nest plug, for two months. At this time, she will lay eggs and will be cared for by her mate. The males are willing to work to support himself, his mate, and his offspring in order for survival; however, unlike the emperor penguin, the hornbills do not find new partners each season.

It is relatively uncommon to find monogamous relationships in fish, amphibians and reptiles; however, the red-backed salamander as well as the Caribbean cleaner goby practice monogamy as well. However, the male Caribbean cleaner goby fish has been found to separate from the female suddenly, leaving her abandoned. In a study conducted by Oregon State University, it was found that this fish practices not true monogamy, but serial monogamy. This essentially means that the goby will have multiple monogamous relationships throughout its life - but only be in one relationship at a time. The red-backed salamander exhibited signs of social monogamy, which is the idea that animals form pairs to mate and raise offspring, but still will partake in extra pair copulation with various males or females in order to increase their biological fitness. This is a relatively new concept in salamanders, and has not been seen frequently - it is also concerning that the act of monogamy may inhibit the salamanders reproductive rates and biological success. However, the study which was conducted in cooperation by the University of Louisiana, Lafayette, and the University of Virginia showed that the salamanders are not inhibited by this monogamy if they show alternative strategies with other mates.

Azara's night monkeys are another species that proved to be monogamous. In an 18 year study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania, these monkeys proved to be entirely monogamous, exhibiting no genetic information or visual information that could lead to the assumption that extra pair copulation was occurring. This explained the question as to why the male owl monkey invested so much time in protecting and raising their own offspring. Because monogamy is often referred to as "placing all your eggs in one basket" the male wants to ensure his young survive, and thus pass on his genes.

Other monogamous species include wolves, otters, a few hooved animals, some bats, certain species of fox, and the Eurasian beaver. This beaver is particularly interesting as it is practicing monogamy in its reintroduction to certain parts of Europe; however, its' American counterpart is not monogamous at all and often partakes in promiscuous behavior. The two species are quite similar in ecology but American beavers tend to be less aggressive than European beavers. In this instance, the scarcity of the European beavers' population could drive its monogamous behavior; moreover, it lowers the risk of parasite transmission which is correlated with biological fitness. Monogamy is proving to be very efficient for this beaver, as their population is climbing.

See also

Monogamy topics:

Evolution topics:

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