01/25/2014 11:15 am ET Updated Jan 25, 2014

So, Do Animals Get Divorced?

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From Mother Nature Network's Chanie Kirschner:

The better question might be: do animals get married in the first place? As a whole, animals are largely a promiscuous group, with only a very select species choosing to mate with only one partner over a lifetime. As a matter of fact, more than 90 percent of the animal kingdom mates with multiple partners. Most animals do not actually choose one mate for a long time — or even a short time, for that matter. Most animals just mate with each other and move on.

Some interesting ones to note: Bees, for example. Queen bees can mate with anywhere from one to more than 40 partners. Worker bees actually prefer a more promiscuous queen. And by mating with so many partners, the queen increases the genetic diversity of her offspring. (This is one of the main reasons that animals choose multiple partners to begin with.) Oddly enough, after a male bee mates with the queen, he dies.

Another promiscuous animal is the bonobo chimpanzee, which mates in all sorts of positions, with multiple partners, both male and female. Bonobo chimpanzees are famous for the frequency of their mating, as well as the many creative ways in which they do the deed.

But there are a few animals that mate with each other for life, or at least a very long time. One such animal is the wolf, with a typical wolf pack consisting of a father, a mother, and their young, similar to a human family.

Others on the short list of animals that are (mostly) monogamous: Swans, black vultures, prairie voles, termites, turtle doves, and a parasitic worm with a name that I can’t spell or pronounce.

So do the animals that choose a lifelong partner ever say sayonara to that mate? It seems that they do. Just last year, in the Reptilian Zoo Happ in Austria, the world’s oldest married animal couple, a pair of giant tortoises, started fighting with each other – 115 years after their first date! Now some of you might be saying, "It’s about time!" but scientists told zoo staff that animals splitting up after that long of a union is rare.

How did they know something was up? The female tortoise began attacking the male tortoise for no apparent reason (no surprise there). They have since been split up into different habitats, and last I checked the zoo staff was hoping for reconciliation (since tortoises can live up to 150 years). One trick they tried to get them back together was to get another female tortoise to live with Poldi (the male) to make Bibi (the female) jealous. No dice though. She didn’t seem to care all that much.

Another species that typically mates for life is the gibbon, which forms very strong pair bonds. These animals often spend much of their time together, grooming each other, and hanging out in the trees. Alas, recent gibbon research has shown that the home life of these primates is not as idyllic as it seems, with mates occasionally cheating on each other.

So there you have it folks, animals can indeed get divorced, though not many animals get "married" to one partner in the first place. Except for a few species, monogamy — and divorce — is mostly a human thing.


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