If owl monkeys can do it, humans can too! Right?
That’s what researchers are hoping to learn after a new study from the University of Pennsylvania discovered that a mammalian species called the owl monkey is completely faithful. Researchers studied 35 offspring from 17 pairs of owl monkeys as part of an 18-year Owl Monkey Project and found that the owls showed no signs of cheating, a trait that is common in the animal kingdom.
"Our study is the first of any primate species, and only the fourth for a pair-living mammal, to show genetic monogamy, or real faithfulness, between partners," study author Eduardo Fernandez-Duque, an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania, said in a statement.
Researchers believe that the male owl’s role in the raising and caring for the offspring plays a large role in the monogamy of the owl monkeys’ relationships.
The more involved a father was, the more likely the species was to express "genetic monogamy."
"In the 18 years of the Owl Monkey Project, we never witnessed a little sneaky copulation with a neighbor, or that one partner dashed off for some time," Fernandez-Duque said. "So in that sense we were not very much surprised by our results. But true genetic monogamy is very rare. We would not have been surprised if there had been at least one non-pair infant, but there were none."
Researchers hope their findings can begin to explain the evolution of similar relationships in other primate species, like human beings.
"Pair bonding, love if you want, is prevalent in all human societies, whereas fathering is much more variable," Fernandez-Duque said. "The owl monkey story is suggesting that, under very specific ecological settings, this preference for each other leads to the pair spending a lot of time in close proximity, thus facilitating paternal care and increasing paternity certainty. Genetic monogamy is the result."