The Most Faithful Males Make the Most Devoted Fathers

Owl monkey studies reveal link between fidelity and paternal care.

Posted Mar 22, 2014

A new study suggests that owl monkeys found in the Chaco region of Argentina are among the best mates and fathers in the animal kingdom, a new study shows. The study also shows a nice correlation between fidelity and quality of child care: Animals that are least likely to be promiscuous also show the most devoted father care.

The question we might ask is: What does any of this mean for us?

For a piece I wrote for, I asked the study's lead author.

"There is nothing like this in other primates or mammals," Fernandez-Duque said. "Every single male studied over 18 years in captivity and in the field has shown devoted care." When you see a baby riding on an adult, "you can put your money down — the adult is a male."

Still, it raises an interesting question: Where do we, as a species, reside along the spectrum of behavior that suggests that greater fidelity is associated with more paternal care? Well, it's hard to say.

Studies of monogamy and paternal care in human societies are complicated by the enormous variation in human societies, Fernandez-Duque said. Some communities, such as the Aka pygmies of Central Africa, are marked by strong parental care and close relationships, he said. "In those societies, men and women tend to spend a lot of time together," he said.

So we're stuck. Lacking good information on fidelity and fatherly care in humans, bet on the good fathers. Call it positive thinking, but until we have the answers, I say we assume the best.