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What Animals Tell Us About Love And Relationships

Image of Book Cover for Wild Connection by Jennifer Verdolin


After a bad end to a long-term relationship, animal behavior expert Jennifer Verdolin decided to look to the animal kingdom for new insight on dating. 

She dug into animal behavior literature and applied her findings to the dating world. She approached each new date as if she were an animal trying to find a mate. Her new book, Wild Connection: What Animal Courtship And Mating Tell Us about Human Relationships (Prometheus Books/2014), compares the courtship rituals and mating behaviors of animals to their human equivalents. 

Here is an excerpt from the book:

"If I were a thirteen-lined ground squirrel my romantic life would be a lot less muddled. For these squirrels, both male and female, it is pretty straightforward: a quick hook up is the only way to go. Males make plugs, there is sperm competition, males and females mate multiply, and once they mate, the females raise the litters, and that's all she wrote. The female and male are not confused. They don't have to think that now, just because they've mated, they are making their way down the aisle with the eyebrow raising baby bump and the "holy crap, what are we doing?" look on their faces, joined at the hip for all eternity, destined to find, hide, and share their nuts together-forever. We can think of the quick hook up, as practiced by thirteen-lined grounds squirrels, as a short-term mating strategy. Meanwhile, the lengthy partnerships of gibbons, geese, and penguins are models of the long-term-mating strategy. But are things really this simple? Unlike thirteen-lined grounds squirrels, which only pursue a short-term approach, other species, including humans, combine short- and long-term tactics depending on their agendas; often, individuals pursue multiple agendas simultaneously. Let's put it this way, while thirteen-lined grounds squirrels get together for a minute, we can get together for twenty minutes (okay, maybe seven) or for a night, a weekend rendezvous, a summer fling, a season, a year, or a lifetime. Among humans, this is truly universal, with different cultures having different words for these various types of interactions. Despite all evidence to the contrary, the strong cultural belief that humans, as well as other "monogamous" species, pursue only one mating strategy continues to persist."

Host Frank Stasio talks to Verdolin, a scholar-in-residence at Duke University and research scientist with the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center in Durham.

Anita Rao is an award-winning journalist and the host and creator of "Embodied," a weekly radio show and podcast about sex, relationships & health. She's also the managing editor of WUNC's on-demand content.
Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.
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