As we approach Valentine’s Day, many long-term couples may be reminiscing about decades of memories from the holiday. While not many animals live as long as humans, there are plenty of species that also spend their lives with the same mate. It may not be with the same romantic notions that we have (though there are some animals that show their “love” for each other in sweet ways), but even if it’s more about survival and the best chance of successfully raising offspring, their dedication is still admirable.
To mark Valentine’s Day, learn about some species that often – or always – mate for life!
While it’s estimated that about 90% of bird species are monogamous and raise young together, the same can only be sad for no more than 5% of mammals, but the Eurasian beaver is among them. Cousins to the North American beaver, Eurasian beavers are plentiful, stretching from western Europe through Russia and even to the borderlands around China and Mongolia. These animals also give a dam about fidelity. Once coupled, they mate for life, which can be more than 20 years, though their average lifespan is about half of that. Family units tend to consist of these devoted couples and their offspring, and the parents split childcare and “household” duties in their lodges.
Gray wolves, the largest members of the canine family, are much like their domesticated cousins in one particular way: their loyalty. They’re another mammal that tends to mate for life. In the average pack, there’s a dominant couple that rules the roost, with the rest of the pack generally consisting of their offspring. These family groups work together to survive, too. That includes putting food “on the table.” They hunt in packs, allowing them to bring down much bigger animals like bison.
Circling back to the more faithful bird species, we have the macaroni penguin. The fact that they mate for life may not be out of the ordinary as a bird, but the way they connect with their mate is. After an absence, they greet each other with what are called ecstatic displays, which involve puffing their chests up, swinging their heads from side to side, and making a gurgling noise. You could say macaroni penguins are a little cheesy. Males and females both protect their eggs, and after they’re hatched, the male primarily watches the chicks while the female finds food.
The bald eagle may be associated with freedom, but there’s no free love with the species. They’re another bird that mates for life, which can be up to 30 years. They’re a little flashy with their love, too. While courting, they do something called a cartwheel display in which they lock their talons and spin through the air. Makes those film montages of holding hands and frolicking in nature seem more believable. After their acrobatics, the male and female both spend time incubating eggs and caring for the eaglets.
Humans can and often do mate for life, but that’s not always the case, and one of our primate cousins is similar. Gibbons, apes native to Southeast Asia, will often mate for life. Couples also regularly sing songs together, possibly to allow neighboring gibbons to recognize their territory. However, they’re also know to break up or cheat on each other. With their vocal prowess, that could allow for a pretty great revenge album. Once their young are born, both parents help rear them, though the female does the majority of the work. The offspring will live with their parents until reaching sexual maturity.
Much like gray wolves, coyotes are loyal to their lifelong mates. In fact, it’s been proven by science. A 2012 study conducted by Ohio State University students tested the genetics of 236 urban coyotes around Chicago, finding no evidence of cheating. Not so wily then, are they? This lifelong dedication also involves both mates caring for their young and means that the male closely guards the female when she’s in heat.
Shinglebank skinks are blue-tongued lizards native to Australia. They’re also a rarity: a monogamous lizard. Though they live alone most of the year, they reunite for mating season and can often be seen in pairs. These connections can last for up to 20 years. The connections also form when the male impresses the female with his licking skills. Apparently those skills can tip the scales in his favor.
The gray fox can be found from Canada all the way down to South America, and despite this roaming, there’s little roaming in mating pairs. They’re another canine species that tends to mate for life. They fly solo when they’re not breeding or caring for kits, but they come back together when it’s time to do those things. Both male and female feed and care for the kits and then teach them how to hunt before they head out on their own.
To close out the list, how about we include a snuggly bird? The Atlantic puffin – often called the clown of the sea – only has giggles for their partner. This species is also known to stick with the same bird for life. They return to the same nesting site each year, rub their beaks together in affectionate greeting, and care for their young together.