Frog Reveals Secret of Monogamy

According to the BBC News of March 31, the secret is the size of the pond.

The frog species Ranitomeya imitator, known as the mimic poison frog, lives in the South American rain forest. It is the first truly monogamous amphibian known to science. The biologist, Dr. Jason Brown of Duke University, has recently discovered that the reason for the monogamy is that the pool in which the species lives is so small that neither males nor females can stray. A similar species Ranitomeya variabilis thrives in a slightly larger pool: they stray!

Dr. Brown and his fellow researchers believe they have found convincing evidence of an evolutionary chain of causation: changing (i.e., making smaller) the breeding pool size forced the mimic poison frog to change its system of parental care, with males and females working together in the breeding and nurturing of tadpoles culminating in “social and genetic monogamy.” Details are to be published in the journal The American Naturalist.

The number of lessons homo sapiens can learn from animals is infinite, beginning with patience from camels, wisdom from owls and cunning from foxes. All one has to do is read Lafontaine’s fables and remember that he took inspiration from Aesop, Horace, Boccaccio and many others. However, one will not find any useful hints there on how to prevent spouses from straying. Nor will one find any such indications in the Bible, even if one takes into account that Jews and Christians have serious difficulties deciding whether monogamy ever appeared in the scriptures as an exemplary, God-ordained institution. Muslims have not discovered any such suggestion.

In the early stages of our recorded history, the border between polygamy and monogamy was blurred. The early literature – Beowulf, Le Chant de Roland and Das Nibelungenlied – is not of much help. In the literature of the last thousand years it has become increasingly clear, ever since matrimony has been firmly established as an admirable institution, that spouses have a tendency to stray.

We can now learn from the mimic poison frog Ranitomeya imitator that one way to meet the high demands of fidelity is to limit the playing field.

Marriage counsellors, please note.

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7 responses to “Frog Reveals Secret of Monogamy

  1. David Schatzky

    Brekekekex koax koax- from you I’m catching your disease.
    – Dionysius
    (The Frogs, Aristophanes)

    The smaller the pond, the greater the fidelity? Better to be a small frog in a big pond? Or a big frog in a small pond?

  2. Horace Krever

    I have always wondered what was the outcome of the old folk song, “The Froggie Would A-Wooing Go”. Now I know.

  3. I really am a monomagist. An understanding spouse is very dangerous, because it may not last. In the Bible monogamy was really not commanded, at least to the best of my knowledge. RK

  4. So there are no animal precedents for the chastity belt?

    I read the Got Questions description as making it very clear that marriage is exclusive to the spouses, whether or not one discounts the ‘man is head of the household’ theme. How can man and woman be one flesh (common theme in Old and New Testaments) and still allow for a little on the side for either spouse?

    This does not mean that we have to believe that, or act accordingly, or even think it’s a good thesis. We may decide to emulate the big-pond frogs instead, or the bonobos…

  5. You are disqualifying yourself from the role of arbitrator in the forthcoming debate between representatives of Ranitomeya imitator and Ranitomeya variabilis.