It isn't just humans who find their true love and stay in monogamous relationships! While multiple mating partners is more common when it comes to animals who sexually reproduce, a wide variety of animal species do mate for life with a single partner.
If you're looking for a "power couple" in the animal world, you've found it in gray wolf couples.
An alpha male and an alpha female pair up to lead their pack of anywhere between 10 and 36 members. It is only this duo that is allowed to breed during breeding season, and they only breed with each other. They only mate once per year and often give birth to between 5 and 8 pups.
While the rest of the pack isn't allowed to mate, all of the wolves help to raise and care for the new pups once they're born.
Gibbons are small primates, one of the few that are mostly monogamous (with humans being one of the other rarities).
Gibbon relationships are actually very similar to human ones. Gibbon couples are monogamous and create family units that live together in groups until their offspring leave to create their own families. Sounds a lot like us, right?
These family units often have specific calls or sounds unique to them, and they will sing complicated songs unique to them as well. Gibbon couples also have been observed grooming each other and splitting the parenting responsibilities.
Gibbon couples have also been observed to "cheat" on each other, participate in "serial monogamy" with a variety of partners and can "break up" with one partner to get with another. However, many gibbons are observed to stay with a single partner until death.
It's estimated that about 90% of birds are monogamous, which includes many types of penguins. One such species is the macaroni penguin from the Antarctic.
During breeding season, these penguins will form massive colonies of over 100,000 individuals. If the penguin has bred before, they will return to the same mate if they can. If their mate doesn't arrive or dies, they will find another mate to pair up with.
Once the couples pair up with their forever partner, two eggs will be laid. Both of the parents take turns incubating the eggs for between 33 and 37 days, until they hatch. One parent will often leave to hunt or forage while the other takes babysitting duty with the eggs.
Since the babysitter cannot hunt or eat while incubating, these penguins often lose 40% of their weight by the end of breeding season.
Since almost all birds are monogamous, here are a few more common examples.
Barn owls mate for life and will often only find a new partner if their original partner dies. Courtship rituals for barn owls includes both males and females screeching and sending out "advertising" calls for partners. When a pair finds each other, the male performs special flying patterns.
Many species of swans mate for life. Swans typically have a courtship process similar to barn owls that includes different sounds and calls as well as special flight displays for mates.
Once a mate is chosen, the pair usually bonds for life. However, if one of the pair dies, the remaining swan will often find a new mate. Interestingly, if an older female swan finds a mate in a younger male, the male will move into her territory. If an older male swan finds a mate with a younger female, the female moves into his place.
Some species of swans, like the mute swan, have been observed participating in homosexual and transgender behaviors as well. All love wins in the world of swans!
- Western Wildlife Outreach: Wolf Ecology and Behavior
- Animal Ark: Gray Wolf
- Center for Biological Diversity: Macaroni Penguin
- Oceanwide Expeditions: Macaroni Penguin
- Monkey Worlds: Gibbon
- National Geographic: Gibbons
- Animal Diversity: Tyto Alba Barn Owl
- Beauty of Birds: Swan Breeding Profile - Pairing, Incubation, Nesting, Raising Young
- ABC News: Boston Swan Duo Are Same Sex
About the Author
Elliot Walsh holds a B.S in Cell and Developmental Biology and a B.A in English Literature from the University of Rochester. He's worked in multiple academic research labs, at a pharmaceutical company, as a TA for chemistry, and as a tutor in STEM subjects. He's currently working full-time as a content writer and editor.