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10 Monogamous Animals That Just Want To Settle Down

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They can't put a ring on it, but when these animals find a mate, they're ready to commit.

1. Gibbons

The furry, tree-swinging gibbon doesn't monkey around with a lot of partners in its 35- to 40-year lifespan. Males and females form strong bonds and exhibit a surprising amount of relationship equality as they raise a family. They care for their young together, groom each other, and spend quality time vocalizing and hanging out. But not every relationship is perfect. Cheating, breakups, and remarriage all occur within the gibbon community. Sexting and online dating, however, do not. Yet.

2. Schistosoma mansoni worms

What's a nice girl like you doing in a human like this? There's nothing romantic about Schistosoma Mansoni, a parasitic flatworm that uses freshwater snails to get to humans. Once it attaches to human skin, it usually penetrates the epidermis through a hair follicle and deposits larvae that feed on blood in the lymphatic system and lungs. When the larvae migrate to the heart, they start looking for The One. Male and female larvae monogamously pair off and eventually travel to the mesenteric veins that drain blood from the intestines. Together, they reach sexual maturity and produce about 300 eggs per day. Postively heartwarming.

3. Wolves

It's usually "'til death do us part" for wolves. In the wild, they start breeding by the age of two. Mated pairs build their wolf pack by having a new litter every year. (Most wolves don't experience reproductive senescence, either, and can have babies until they die.) So when you see a lone wolf, have some sympathy. He's single and looking for love, mourning his dead partner, or, in extreme cases, nursing a breakup with the pack.

4. Beavers

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Only about 3 percent of mammals are socially monogamous, but leave it to beavers to show us how it's done. After mating, the rodents spend as much time maintaining their relationships as they do their dams and lodges. The males and females co-parent their young and stay together until one partner dies. Attached beavers occasionally philander, but it's not enough to break up the family.

5. Shingleback skinks

Unlike most reptiles, the shingleback skink of Australia only has eyes for one mate. Males make a series of moves—including caressing and licking females—before copulating. Courtship takes months, but partnered bliss can last over 20 years.

6. Barn owls

Some 90 percent of birds are socially monogamous, but that doesn't mean they're completely faithful to one mate. Barn owls, however, put all their eggs in one basket. Males woo females with screeches and gifts of dead mice. If the female responds with croaking sounds, she's basically saying, "I do."

7. Bald eagles 

pair of bald eagles
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Long-distance relationships aren't easy, but bald eagles thrive in them. The birds fly solo during winter and migration, reconnecting with their mates each breeding season. Most eagles pair off by the age of five and stay together at least 20 years.

8. French angelfish

pair of french angelfish
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Don't let the name fool you. These lovers are aggressive fighters that do almost everything as a pair—hunting, hanging out in the reef, and defending their territory. And you thought your ex was clingy.

9. Octopods

The brainiest invertebrate of them all usually keeps others at eight arms' length. But when it's time to mate, they dedicate their lives to one partner. Well, sort of. Octopuses only live one or two years, so they spawn once and then die shortly after. But the Pacific striped octopus is an exception, with the ability to lay multiple clutches of eggs. Instead of mating once at a distance to avoid being eaten, these creatures mate face to face a number of times and even appear to kiss and fondle each other's suckers. Get a room, you two!

10. Swans

pair of swans
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We've already established that birds of a feather like to flock together, but the commitment of the male swan really stands out. In addition to helping their mates build nests, they're one of only two male birds in the Anatidae family that share egg incubation duties.

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Animals
These Strange Sea Spiders Breathe Through Their Legs
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Sylke Rohrlach, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0

We know that humans breathe through their lungs and fish breathe through their gills—but where exactly does that leave sea spiders?

Though they might appear to share much in common with land spiders, sea spiders are not actually arachnids. And, by extension, they don't circulate blood and oxygen the way you'd expect them to, either.

A new study from Current Biology found that these leggy sea dwellers (marine arthropods of the class Pycnogonida) use their external skeleton to take in oxygen. Or, more specifically: They use their legs. The sea spider contracts its legs—which contain its guts—to pump oxygen through its body.

Somehow, these sea spiders hardly take the cake for Strangest Spider Alive (especially because they're not actually spiders); check out, for instance, our round-up of the 10 strangest spiders, and watch the video from National Geographic below:

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science
Scientists Study the Starling Invasion Unleashed on America by a Shakespeare Fan

On a warm spring day, the lawn outside the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan gleams with European starlings. Their iridescent feathers reflect shades of green and indigo—colors that fade to dowdy brown in both sexes after the breeding season. Over the past year, high school students from different parts of the city came to this patch of grass for inspiration. "There are two trees at the corner I always tell them to look at," Julia Zichello, senior manager at the Sackler Educational Lab at the AMNH, recalls to Mental Floss. "There are holes in the trees where the starlings live, so I was always telling them to keep an eye out."

Zichello is one of several scientists leading the museum's Science Research Mentoring Program, or SRMP. After completing a year of after-school science classes at the AMNH, New York City high school students can apply to join ongoing research projects being conducted at the institution. In a recent session, Zichello collaborated with four upperclassmen from local schools to continue her work on the genetic diversity of starlings.

Before researching birds, Zichello earned her Ph.D. in primate genetics and evolution. The two subjects are more alike than they seem: Like humans, starlings in North America can be traced back to a small parent population that exploded in a relatively short amount of time. From a starting population of just 100 birds in New York City, starlings have grown into a 200-million strong flock found across North America.

Dr. Julia Zichello
Dr. Julia Zichello
©AMNH

The story of New York City's starlings began in March 1890. Central Park was just a few decades old, and the city was looking for ways to beautify it. Pharmaceutical manufacturer Eugene Schieffelin came up with the idea of filling the park with every bird mentioned in the works of William Shakespeare. This was long before naturalists coined the phrase "invasive species" to describe the plants and animals introduced to foreign ecosystems (usually by humans) where their presence often had disastrous consequences. Non-native species were viewed as a natural resource that could boost the aesthetic and cultural value of whatever new place they called home. There was even an entire organization called the American Acclimatization Society that was dedicated to shipping European flora and fauna to the New World. Schieffelin was an active member.

He chose the starling as the first bird to release in the city. It's easy to miss its literary appearance: The Bard referenced it exactly once in all his writings. In the first act of Henry IV: Part One, the King forbids his knight Hotspur from mentioning the name of Hotspur's imprisoned brother Mortimer to him. The knight schemes his way around this, saying, "I'll have a starling shall be taught to speak nothing but 'Mortimer,' and give it him to keep his anger still in motion."

Nearly three centuries after those words were first published, Schieffelin lugged 60 imported starlings to Central Park and freed them from their cages. The following year, he let loose a second of batch of 40 birds to support the fledgling population.

It wasn't immediately clear if the species would adapt to its new environment. Not every bird transplanted from Europe did: The skylark, the song thrush, and the bullfinch had all been subjects of American integration efforts that failed to take off. The Acclimatization Society had even attempted to foster a starling population in the States 15 years prior to Schieffelin's project with no luck.

Then, shortly after the second flock was released, the first sign of hope appeared. A nesting pair was spotted, not in the park the birds were meant to occupy, but across the street in the eaves of the American Museum of Natural History.

Schieffelin never got around to introducing more of Shakespeare's birds to Central Park, but the sole species in his experiment thrived. His legacy has since spread beyond Manhattan and into every corner of the continent.

The 200 million descendants of those first 100 starlings are what Zichello and her students made the focus of their research. Over the 2016-2017 school year, the group met for two hours twice a week at the same museum where that first nest was discovered. A quick stroll around the building reveals that many of Schieffelin's birds didn't travel far. But those that ventured off the island eventually spawned populations as far north as Alaska and as far south as Mexico. By sampling genetic data from starlings collected around the United States, the researchers hoped to identify how birds from various regions differed from their parent population in New York, if they differed at all.

Four student researchers at the American Museum of Natural History
Valerie Tam, KaiXin Chen, Angela Lobel and Jade Thompson (pictured left to right)
(©AMNH/R. Mickens)

There are two main reasons that North American starlings are appealing study subjects. The first has to do with the founder effect. This occurs when a small group of individual specimens breaks off from the greater population, resulting in a loss of genetic diversity. Because the group of imported American starlings ballooned to such great numbers in a short amount of time, it would make sense for the genetic variation to remain low. That's what Zichello's team set out to investigate. "In my mind, it feels like a little accidental evolutionary experiment," she says.

The second reason is their impact as an invasive species. Like many animals thrown into environments where they don't belong, starlings have become a nuisance. They compete with native birds for resources, tear through farmers' crops, and spread disease through droppings. What's most concerning is the threat they pose to aircraft. In 1960, a plane flying from Boston sucked a thick flock of starlings called a murmuration into three of its four engines. The resulting crash killed 62 people and remains the deadliest bird-related plane accident to date.

Today airports cull starlings on the premises to avoid similar tragedies. Most of the birds are disposed of, but some specimens are sent to institutions like AMNH. Whenever a delivery of dead birds arrived, it was the students' responsibility to prep them for DNA analysis. "Some of them were injured, and some of their skulls were damaged," Valerie Tam, a senior at NEST+m High School in Manhattan, tells Mental Floss. "Some were shot, so we had to sew their insides back in."

Before enrolling in SRMP, most of the students' experiences with science were limited to their high school classrooms. At the museum they had the chance to see the subject's dirty side. "It's really different from what I learned from textbooks. Usually books only show you the theory and the conclusion, but this project made me experience going through the process," says Kai Chen, also a senior at NEST+m.

After analyzing data from specimens in the lab, an online database, and the research of previous SRMP students, the group's hypothesis was proven correct: Starlings in North America do lack the genetic diversity of their European cousins. With so little time to adapt to their new surroundings, the variation between two starlings living on opposite coasts could be less than that between the two birds that shared a nest at the Natural History Museum 130 years ago.

Students label samples in the lab.
Valerie Tam, Jade Thompson, KaiXin Chen and Angela Lobel (pictured left to right) label samples with Dr. Julia Zichello.
©AMNH/C. Chesek

Seeing how one species responds to bottlenecking and rapid expansion can provide important insight into species facing similar conditions. "There are other populations that are the same way, so I think this data can help [scientists],” Art and Design High School senior Jade Thompson says. But the students didn't need to think too broadly to understand why the animal was worth studying. "They do affect cities when they're searching for shelter," Academy of American Studies junior Angela Lobel says. “They can dig into buildings and damage them, so they're relevant to our actual homes as well.”

The four students presented their findings at the museum's student research colloquium—an annual event where participants across SRMP are invited to share their work from the year. Following their graduation from the program, the four young women will either be returning to high school or attending college for the first time.

Zichello, meanwhile, will continue where she left off with a new batch of students in the fall. Next season she hopes to expand her scope by analyzing older specimens in the museum's collections and obtaining bird DNA samples from England, the country the New York City starlings came from. Though the direction of the research may shift, she wants the subject to remain the same. "I really want [students] to experience the whole organism—something that's living around them, not just DNA from a species in a far-away place." she says. "I want to give them the picture that evolution is happening all around us, even in urban environments that they may not expect."

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