Every day there's news of another celebrity or politician who was caught being unfaithful to his or her mate. We have turned into a nation of cheaters and the degree of adultery by celebrities in our society has reached such lofty levels that the wedding vows have now been changed to... “Do you take this woman to be your first wife?”
Monogamy seems to be as out of date these days as a ten year old computer. As a student of current events AND animal science I began wondering if homo sapiens cheated on their spouses more, or less, than other members of the animal kingdom.
It turns out that only three percent of the roughly 4,000 mammal species are monogamous. It goes without saying that men are NOT included in this three percent. For years I was under the mistaken impression that some animals and birds mated for life. These paragons of virtue included termites, coyotes, barn owls, beavers, bald eagles, condors, swans, sandhill cranes, pigeons, red tailed hawks, ospreys, gray wolves, beavers, otters, bats, foxes, apes, and vultures. But thanks to DNA testing we now know that these animals are as uninhibited as a sailor on shore leave. While all of them shack up with a mate, the wolves, coyotes and apes all cheat on that mate. It turns out that sexual fidelity is as rare in nature as it is in Congress or Hollywood.
These animals that have been held up as sterling examples of virtue have as many morals as a can of Spaghettios. They are no better than most people and may be far worse. Studies have shown that six percent of children born to a traditional married couple in this country were not sired by the father! Although that number is for the birds it could be worse. For decades scientists said that 90 percent of the 9,700 species of birds are monogamous! Naturalists said this was primarily because more was expected of the male bird than with mammalian species. Unlike many human couples, the male birds actually hang around to help raise the young. This is known as “biologically mandated follow through.” The only problem is that DNA testing proved there was as much hanky-panky occurring in bird nests as there is in secret Manhattan motel rooms.
In a study with blackbirds, formally thought to be monogamous, the males of several pairs were given vasectomies and yet the eggs from the mother still hatched little blackbirds! In another study baby blackbirds were DNA tested and it was found that up to 40 percent of them had been fertilized by a bird who was not the social father! I bet there was some chirping going on in nests everywhere when this news broke.
The only living thing I could find that was definitely 100 percent monogamous is something called the anglerfish. The male of this species follows the scent of a female, finds her, bites her and then hangs on. Over time their skin fuses together and the male eventually lives off the female. (This may remind some of you of your present relationship.) Black vultures are the next closest to being totally monogamous because members of that species attack other black vultures who are caught cheating on their mate. There are also 30 different species including some spiders, sagebrush crickets, praying mantises, sea slugs and paddle crabs where the female makes sure her mate doesn't cheat on her. She does this by eating her lover after they have sex. I think I speak for all men when I say that merely smoking a cigarette or taking a nap afterwards seems like a far more civilized way to conclude the proceedings.
I always believed that cowboys and cowgirls, as a species, were monogamous but even that theory has recently been disproved. I was shocked when a cowboy friend of mine told me that he and his lovely wife of 30 years were getting divorced. When I inquired as to the reason for this estrangement he gave me some insight as to why some wolves, apes, coyotes, vultures and men sometimes fall out of love.
“Because I don't really like her boyfriend all that much,” he reasonably replied.