Nature’s Faithful Lovers

It is Valentine’s Day, and I couldn’t resist writing about nature’s faithful lovers.  Besides, other than Captain John Fremont “discovering” Lake Tahoe on this date, nothing else really important in conservation happened on February 14.

Being a faithful lover is one way to say it; being monogamous is another.  Monogamy is highly variable in nature.  It is a life-history strategy that has some advantages, including a reliable and desirable mate, ability for parental care of young and maintenance of resources through time.  It also has some downsides, including reduced reproduction after loss of a mate.  So, species and entire groups of animals have chosen one way or another.

It is common among birds, with around 90% of species mating in pairs.  Sometimes just for one year (serial monogamy), but sometimes for life.  Bald Eagles roam around separately for most of the year, but come together for mating, usually with the same mate for decades.  Swans, though, live together continuously, with the male doing a lot of the household work, including incubating eggs.  The Albatross is picky about mating, sometimes delaying decisions for a few years while looking around for Mr. or Mrs. Right; after that, they are a pair forever.

Mammals, however, aren’t quite so faithful.  Only about 5% of mammalian species are monogamous.  Gibbons are famously faithful, pairing off and staying that way for their entire lifespan, 30 or more years.  But, like humans, they sometimes discover irreconcilable differences and find that its better “the second time around.”  Beavers are more faithful, and they have good reason to be—they spend a lot of time and effort building and maintaining a homestead together.  A dam and lodge need lots of “sweat equity” that the pair puts in together.

Among fish, monogamy is pretty rare.  Most fish are promiscuous to the extreme, often just letting the eggs and sperm loose into the water without so much as a first date.  Australia’s thorny seahorse is different, though, pairing off for life.  It seems that they get better as breeding as they get to know each other better, producing more offspring as the years pass.  The French angelfish is faithful, too, swimming together for years in their coral reef neighborhood.

Black Vulture (photo by Mdf)

But my favorite of all is the Black Vulture.  The species is faithfully monogamous, living in pairs throughout the year and for many years; they live up to 25 years in nature.  They have strong families as well, feeding their young for many months and living in communal groups.  If you are related, you are welcome to the roost, but don’t come around if you aren’t part of the clan.  And, of course, Black Vultures, like all their fellow species, are ugly as sin.

Which just proves the old adage:  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  Happy Valentines Day!

References:

Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  Black Vulture.  Available at:  https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/black_vulture/lifehistory.  Accessed February 8, 2018.

Frost, Emily.  2013.  Is It Love?  Why Some Ocean Animals (Sort Of) Mate For Life.  Smithsonian, February 13, 2013.  Available at:  https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/is-it-love-why-some-ocean-animals-sort-of-mate-for-life-16907109/?no-ist.  Accessed February 8, 2018.

Green, Amanda.  2016.  10 Monogamous Animals That Just Want To Settle Down.  Mental Floss, February 4, 2016.  Available at:  http://mentalfloss.com/article/55019/10-monogamous-animals-just-want-settle-down.  Accessed February 8, 2018.

This Month in Conservation

September 1
Martha, the last Passenger Pigeon, Died (1914)
September 2
President Roosevelt Dedicated Great Smoky National Park (1940)
September 3
Wilderness Act passed (1964)
September 4
Fort Bragg, Home of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, Established (1918)
September 5
UNESCO Established First World Heritage Sites (1978)
September 6
Alcide d’Orbigny, French Naturalist, Born (1802)
September 7
Edward Birge, Father of Limnology, born (1851)
September 8
UN Millennium Declaration ratified (2000)
September 9
First “Bug” Found in Computer (1945)
September 10
Henry Hardtner, Father of Southern Forestry, Born (1870)
September 11
World Wildlife Fund Began Operations (1961)
September 12
Canyonlands National Park Established (1964)
September 13
Walter Reed born (1851)
September 14
Marc Reisner, Author of Cadillac Desert (1948)
September 15
Darwin reaches the Galapagos Islands (1835)
September 16
Ed Begley Jr., Environmental Advocate, born (1949)
September 17
Edgar Wayburn, Wilderness Advocate, Born (1906)
September 18
Grey Owl, Pioneering Conservationist in Canada, Born (1888)
September 19
Urmas Tartes, Estonian Nature Photographer, born (1963)
September 20
AAAS Founded (1848)
September 21
Assateague Island National Seashore Created (1965)
September 22
Peace Corps becomes law (1961)
September 23
Rose Selected as U.S. National Flower (1986)
September 24
President Kennedy Dedicated Pinchot Institute (1963)
September 25
Pope Francis Addressed the UN on the Environment (2015)
September 26
Johnny Appleseed Born (1774)
September 27
“Silent Spring” Published (1962)
September 28
National Public Lands Day
September 29
Steinhart Aquarium opens (1923)
September 30
Hoover Dam Dedicated (1935)
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