From Penguins to Wolves, Exploring The Most Devoted Animal Partners
When it comes to relationships, animals can behave in many different ways. There are those that come together for breeding season only, then go their seperate ways. Some will arrange themselves in communities with one dominant (usually) male and many females, and some will have a different partner or many partners every season.
Parenthood can often be a bonding experience but for some, like most reptiles, there is little interest in others once the eggs are laid. Males move on fast, and even mothers don’t hang around to raise their young!. Nature can be brutal!
There are some however, that take their partners and their parenting very seriously. Some that find the benefit of bonding and mating for life. In this post, we take a look some of the most incredible monogamous animals.
13 Monogamous Animals
Beavers are one of the few species of animals that are monogamous. Once mated, they stay together for life. The exception to this is if one beaver dies, the other will then attempt to find a new partner. This is true for both the North American Beaver and the Eurasian Beaver.
These animals form tight family bonds, usually breeding every 2 to 3 years. Within the family unit, all members take care of the babies, with young members from the previous season also helping to raise, feed and look after the new seasons offspring. After 2 or 3 years, young beavers head out alone to find their own partner to settle down and build a home, a dam and a family with.
Another family orientated animal that forms monogamous partnerships, are Grey Wolves. Particularly the subspecies that live in the north, such as the Arctic Wolf, Eurasian Wolf or the subspecies that live across the northern states of North America, Canada and Alaska.
Wolves form tight family packs, with an alpha male and female. This monogamous pair are the only members of a pack that have sexual rights, allowing for the size of a pack to be carefully maintained. Most of the other members in a pack are cubs at first, buy may include siblings, aunts and uncles in larger packs, where these individuals have failed to successfully branch off and find their own mate. Occasionally young males will leave a pack together, and are bonded until they find a mate.
In a family pack, the alpha female will usually perform the parental duties, and take care of the cubs in their den, while the male hunts and offers protection. In larger packs, older females may help look after cubs.
Like many species of penguins, macaroni penguins are mostly monogamous and are likely to mate for life. Female macaroni penguins become sexually mature at age five, while most males wait until the age of six to breed.
Females breed at a younger age because the male population is larger and this allows female penguins to select more experienced male partners as soon as the females are physically able to breed. Once females arrive at a colony, males use sexual displays to attract partners, which includes bowing, braying and trumpeting.
Once the monogamous pair have mated, each of them take it in turns to incubate their egg, while the other is foraging. When the egg hatches, it is the father that looks after the baby penguin for the first few weeks, while the mother hunts. After the first few weeks, they change roles and the chick then remains with its mother for a few weeks.
Bald eagles are monogamous and are believed to mate for life. They do not migrate with their mate, but perform displays when they come together for the breeding season. The breeding season takes place in and around March depending on the season, which is early compared to most raptors that mate in April or May.
Both parents take turns incubating the eggs, and once hatched they will take turns between watching over the chicks and bringing back food.
When they are old enough to breed, they often return to the area where they were born, suggesting that breeding ranges may be generational too.
Barn Owls make adorable couples, and are known to mate for life. The exception to this is where one of the birds meets an early death, then the surviving bird can pair bond with a new partner. Before bonding, males will put on a flight display and vocalize a specific call to attract a female. Once attracted, the male will then try to feed the female and if she accepts the food, the pair become bonded. These rituals may be repeated every spring to re-establish the bond.
Once bonded, couples will show affection in a variety of ways. They will sit together often and preen each others feathers, and raise their young together as a team. Barn Owls will often use the same nesting site year after year, and their range often overlaps with that of other couples.
Most species of Gibbon, including silvery gibbons are monogamous and mate for life. And they like to let others know about it. Males are known to vocalize different melodies to both attract a mate, and to show off their pair bond to others. They will also use different melodic sounds to warn off threats and invaders.
There is no breeding season as such for gibbons, and a female will come into oestrus at any time of the year. The female will produce offspring about every 2 to 3 years.
Gibbon families are usually very closely linked and they stay close together when traveling. They have been known to hold hands and some are known to be very regular huggers. If threatened in their territories, the gibbon female will sing and scream while the male chases off the intruder, usually with a lot of noise and crashing through branches.
Prairie Voles are another example of a monogamous rodent, native to the central and northern states of the USA, and Canada. Similarly to the field vole that lives in the UK, they prefer to live in grassy fields, but they also like to pair bond into monogamous couples. Unlike some other monogamous animals, when a partner dies, the widow will often never pursue another pair bond. Choosing to live the life of a widow instead.
Males are known to compete very aggressively to catch the eye of a female, and once successfully bonded, they share the family responsibilities of nest building and feeding their young. They care extensively for their young, together. Prairie voles are also very social animals, and will often huddle together in their burrow, grooming each other and their offspring.
There are 35 different species of seahorse which can be found in warm shallow waters all over the world. Most wild seahorses mate for life in monogamous pair bonds, while some change partners across the seasons in polygamous relationships. Finding a partner can be a dangerous task for these fish. They live in low density populations and require camouflage to disguise themselves from predators.
When pair bonded, these fish can sometimes be seen swimming around together, with linked tails. The bonds these fish create can be very strong. If removed from their partner or when a partner dies, the other fish has been observed refusing food to the point of death.
Seahorses are notable for being the only species where the male seahorses are the ones that become pregnant.
Research shows that Californian Mice may be one of the most monogamous species of rodent there is. In one research paper, it is suggested that “In contrast to most other socially monogamous species, including prairie voles, DNA fingerprinting and paternity analysis suggest that wild California mice have extremely low rates of extra-pair fertilizations and are essentially strictly monogamous.“
It has been observed, also, that this behaviour is replicated in the wild as well as in the lab study. Both partners are also heavily involved in the care of their offspring, with the involvement of the father having a notable impact on the survival rate of their young.
Males can be ferocious in competing and in protecting their partner, but can also be gentle and caring to their own. Their strict monogamous behaviour has made them a valuable target for research and study.
Shingleback Lizards (Tiliqua rugosa) are one of the few, if not the only lizards that bond into monogamous pairs. The advantages to this bonding are limited however, as these animals are not really parental at all. Offspring of a pair become independent after a few days, but before this both parents do engage in feeding their young. It is thought the bonding may be more for protection than for anything else.
Males can be very competitive and aggressive in fending off other males and threats. Despite this, they may share a burrow with not only their partner, but several other shinglebacks too.
The shingleback lizard is quite the enigma in the lizard world, as while some others may display loyalty, these lizards bond for life. They have been observed rubbing heads together and also walking side by side with their partner. They stay close by even out of season, using scent trails to keep track of their partner. Males will defend their partner until their last breath.
There are many birds that form into monogamous pairs, but the black vulture has some very unique characteristics around its lifetime bond. Particularly around how this monogamy is enforced. Once a pair is bonded, this becomes knowledge within the community of black vultures, and the community makes sure this bond is maintained.
If a partner is seen to be ‘playing around’ with another partner, male or female, the rest of the flock will assault the adulterers often in a brutal attack. They will continue the assault until the cheater retreats back to their marital nest. This sends a message not only to the philanderer, but to the wider flock too, that the behaviour is not acceptable.
Not all vultures are monogamous, but black vultures are known to create these long term bonds and stay together around the whole year. They create strong family relationships and have very particular mating rituals too.
While there are some species that carry out cooperative breeding, most hornbills are monogamous animals. That being said, according to the National Geographic, only the Montiero’s hornbill is ‘genetically monogamous’ meaning that neither partner will mate with another bird. Some species that are considered monogamous may still witness occasional encounters with other birds, but not with this hornbill.
When mating, hornbills have some pretty unique behaviour. They will take residency usually in a cavity in a tree, where they will make their maternal nest. Once the female is fertilized, the male will seal her into the nest. He will seal the entrance with dirt, twigs and debris, leaving only a small hole through which he will feed the female food. In this case the male takes on a serious role as protector.
The mother will incubate the eggs for a little over a month, and may remain in the nest with their young for up to 4 more months. When the young are ready to fledge, the mother will unseal the entrance to the nest. In this case, both parents have very specific roles in the family.
Hawksbill Sea Turtle
Most turtles will have many mates in their lifetime, and often have many mates within a season. This is particularly true for males, who are in far fewer numbers than females generally. But recent observations in some species, such as the loggerhead sea turtle and hawksbill sea turtle, suggest that most females live a monogamous life, and in most cases, male sperm was not identified in more than one female’s clutches.
They may not be monogamous for their entire lives, but they usually are for at least the season. They store sperm from a single male for the duration of a season and don’t mate with any other males between nests. That’s about as romantic as it gets for any sea turtle however. These animals are solitary from the moment they leave the nest as baby turtles, other than when mating.