Monogamous animals don't know how long marriage lasts

Trena Eiden, local commentary
Posted 6/3/21

By Trena Eiden

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Monogamous animals don't know how long marriage lasts


I told Gar, “Many mammals, birds and fish stay with the same partner 'till death do they part.” Unsmiling, he deadpanned, “Obviously, monogamous animals don’t know how long marriage actually lasts.” When young men tell Gar they’re getting married he always asks, “Why?” Then he laughs, slaps the husband-to-be on the back and congratulates him. I’m sure he’s jesting because he can’t be serious with me standing poised over the pot roast with a syringe full of something deadly, like my gravy.

Over 90 percent of bird species and all 19 primates have only one life partner. Bald eagles mate for life and their nests have been known to reach 5 feet wide, 20 feet deep and weigh an astounding 6,000 pounds. This happens from never removing materials, but instead continuing to add on year after year. She’s either high maintenance or a lousy housekeeper. These eagles have a unique aerial dance called the “cartwheel courtship flight.” Clearly, this is the eagle youth doing this type of dating and not the old and fat. The male locks talons with the female while they do spins and flips. They twirl downward at great speed with him only letting her go at the last moment before hitting the ground. Sometimes he doesn’t release her soon enough and they actually hit the ground! WHAT?! “Drop me once” would be a dealbreaker.

Black vultures' mating rituals also involve aerial displays but instead of hanging onto his girl, they fly separate with the male circling her then, catching her unawares, he dives at her. This is not unique. Remember in middle school when that cute boy in seventh grade used to hit you in the arm? It’s pretty much the same thing with both brain capacities being fairly close.

Macaroni penguin mates get so excited to see each other they puff out their chests, swing their heads side to side, dance a little jig and make happy gurgling sounds. I wish Gar would try this; I’d pay good money to see him dance a jig. The weary mother penguin hatches the chicks, then this overworked mother goes off to hunt. And dad? Well, he sits around watching daytime talk shows. I’m pretty sure she fumes, “I might as well just do it all myself,” but I’m also pretty sure he’s oblivious and continues to sip iced tea.

Shingleback skink males woo the female of their choice by caressing and licking her. The girl must like it because their partnerships last for over 20 years. The caress/massage sounds great but the licking would get weird when her parents were over for dinner. Everywhere they go the male and female walk close together, with the female always slightly ahead. Obviously, he lets her pretend she’s the boss knowing, in reality, she doesn’t have a clue which way is east.

Gibbons sometimes cheat, break up and remarry; relationships are hard. Red and gray fox are monogamous but they also have live-in nannies so we kinda hate them. California condor females naturally have the final say in picking a nest and barn owl males bring their selected mate dead mice.

Titi monkeys are never apart, which is bizarro to think while pooping you’re always being scrutinized, but if separated, they become highly distressed. Gar says he’s fine when I’m not home but I doubt it. “Highly distressed” was putting it mildly last Thursday, when he couldn’t find the fishing lures he’d just bought.

Seahorse males not only give birth, but during courting, flirt with prospective mates, causing jealous females to compete for a male’s attention. If she had a crystal ball and could see the day he gave her a frying pan for her birthday she might decide he’s not worth the effort. Gar’s never done this because his mate has a thousand-yard stare. Also, seahorses have a short lifespan, so their monogamy commitment isn’t quite the same as Gar’s.

Prairie voles mate for life, sharing nest building and child rearing equally. When one partner dies, most won’t seek out another. Gar says he wouldn’t want to go through the “look-good, smell-good” cosmetic stage again. When I asked about remarrying if I died, he answered, “Once of that is enough.” I glared at him and when he didn’t elaborate, I hissed, “You know, the Croatian word for 'roller coaster' translates to 'train of death.' Staying married to me has been a long proving ground for Gar but he knows to stay on my good side, thus, he’s never brought me a dead mouse.  

Trena Eiden