Mate guarding

Mate guarding is the process in which a member of a species attempts to prevent another a member of a species of a different sex from mating with rival members. Mate guarding exists in various forms throughout the animal kingdom. Mate guarding exists in many social animals. In the definition of primates, an individual will remain near its mate to prevent others from copulating with them[1]. This also applies to humans. Though it is common among many species for the male to be the mate guard (this can be seen in elephant seals), this is not universal as seen in some species such as humans, of which certain females around the world practice polyandry[2]. The behavioral aspects of mate guarding in humans in different between the two sexes. According to Buss (2002), mate guarding involves the necessity the preserve access to a mate, prevent encroachment of intersexual rivals, and to prevent a mate from defecting a mateship. Mate guarding is beneficial as it allows an individual to retain access to reproductive and other fundamental resources provided by the mate[3].

Mate guarding has been observed in a vast diversity of animals including various species of insects. Buss (2002) mentions several examples of these behaviors. In certain species of water striders, the male sits upon the back of the female several days before mating. While it would make more sense to mate right away, the male gives himself the advantage of making sure that no other males are able to get within close proximity of the female. Similar strategies are employed by species of beetles. Certain species of bees, beetles, and moths are are able to produce a chemical scent that deters males[4].

There are unique reasons among human males for the reasoning behind mate guarding. A human male is always able to reproduce as opposed to a human female. The mate of male can always attract attention from the males reproductive rivals. If a male fails to protect his mate, he has the risk of her bearing his rivals child and can receive public humiliation. The mate, as a result, receives the label of cuckold. This can effect her in the sense that now she is vulnerable from other rivals and has her reputation ruined in the form of being adulterer. She is no longer seen a committed individual. The mate can also lose out on the resources provided by her partner. There is also the risk of sexual transmitted diseases being present in the rival male[5].

The practice of mate guarding seems to have evolved in response to mate poaching. Mate poaching (adultery) occurs in different proportions of the two sexes. According to a modern study, 60% of men and 53% of women reported that they tried to lure someone else’s mate into having a committed relationship with them. In terms of having sexual interactions, 60% were men and only 38% were women[6].

Mate guarding is expressed by the two sexes for different reasons. For men, mate guarding is essential in defending his image. A man with a partner who is known to practice adultery has his image degraded and his status is reduced. For a woman, mate guarding is essential to ensure that a man has a emotional commitment to her and not other women. Mate guarding is essential in protecting the reproductive resources provided by the mates and making sure that the father or mother successfully spreads his or her genes for the future generation.

1. Primate Factsheets Glossary. May 7th, 2010

2. Awasthi, Sanjeev. Polyandry in Himalayas. Posted May 25th, 2007. May 6th, 2010.

3: Buss. D.M. (2002) Human Mate Guarding. Neuroendocrinology Letters Special Issue. Suppl. 23-29.

4. Buss 2002

5. Buss 2002

6. Buss 2002

Rory Kyle