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Episode Info: "Focus on the family!" is what we told ourselves preparing for this show. Those of conservative religious bent have feelings, typically lots of them, about families. Excuse me, about human families. But what do biologists have to say about families? As is always the case with model organisms, studying animals doesn't directly tell us anything about human families. Our common ancestry, though, guarantees that animal families can at least inform the study of our own families. After taking a good long look at how other animals organize their families, frankly we are horrified. Animals are some sick puppies. Infanticide, absent parents, cheating parents, infanticidal philandering parents! But there are a few animals that construct families what would make James Dobson proud. We're talking about life-long pair bonds in prairie voles. If one partner dies, the other one does not find a new partner. And they never cheat on each other, ever. We're talking about albatrosses, who return from a six-month solitary sojourn around the world to find their one partner on a rock in Oahu, and if that partner hasn't arrived yet, the albatross waits. If their partner has died during the six months abroad, the partner waits, and waits. Oh, also, one third of the albatross partnerships are female-female couples. Nevermind about James Dobson, animals can be downright inspiring. Where do we humans fall out in the kerfuffle? We're one of the most family-oriented species, to be sure, but we're not the most faithful, and we're not the most paternally invested. That can make one feel small, but also big. Sort of in the middle is where we humans are when it comes to families. Well, we're still doing better than butterflies. Those heartless egg machines just mate and mate and mate and then die, leaving their caterpillars alone on a stick. Butterflies, the very model of sin.
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