Different Types of Mating Systems in Wildlife

Reproduction is the biological process by which new individual “offspring” are
produced from their “parent” or parents. Whereas mating is the pairing of opposite sex for sexual reproduction. Due to a different kind of species, mating is between two individuals of opposite sexes, mating way is also different.

A mating system is a pattern of male–female pairings

  • The mating system is an important component of the social system as it
    influences the size, composition, and kin structure of groups of interacting
  • Mating behaviour: It includes attracting mates i.e choosing among potential mates and competing for mates. It is a product of a form of natural selection called sexual

Types of mating system

  1. Monogamy
  2. Polygyny
    • Resource Defense Polygyny
    • Harems
    • Leks
  3. Polyandry
    • Resource Defense Polyandry
    • Cooperative Polyandry
  4. Promiscuity
  5. Polygynandry

Monogamy/ Social monogamous

It is the system in which One male mates with one female (can say poor mate selection)

  • Parental care by both sexes (so not common in mammals, because providing milk is a specialized task of females)
  • Individuals in monogamous pairs will both contribute to the defence and parental care of offspring.
  • One male and one female have an exclusive mating relationship.
  • Monogamy may last for a single breeding season or whole life.
  • No sexual dimorphism (seems both sexes are same). Males and females are often so much alike morphologically that they may be difficult to distinguish based on external characteristics.
  • There is long-term bonding between the two sexes
  • It is most common in birds and rare in other animals
  • Eg : Swan, great hornbill , sarus crane etc
image 2

Polygamy/ Polygamous

It is the system in which one male mates with multiple females.

  • This mating system is found in a few birds and insects, but is most common in mammals.
  • Polygyny is a strategy used by males to increase their reproductive fitness
  • Polygynous species are generally sexual dimorphic where males are showier and often larger than females
  • Example: Peacock, Lion, Deer

Polygamy Strategy

  1. Resource defends polygyny:

It occurs when males defend areas containing resources such as foods, nesting, or roosting sites which are critical for reproduction

  • Males typically scent mark the boundaries of their territories and defend these
    areas against intrusions by other males
  • Thus, individual males form territories centered on resources needed for
    successful mating.
  • Male-male competition is high, males compete for females by defending
    important resources.
  • E.g. African bird (orange rumped honeyguide) feeds on beeswax, males defend bee
    colonies from other males. Females come to the bee colony as a food source and
    copulate with the male.

2. Harem:

  • Harem, is a male who defended a group of females
  • A group of females under continual control of a single male (Harem)
  • Males compete for control of the groups
  • Males usually compete with each other for groups of females in contests usually determined by differences in body size or weaponry, which dictate fighting ability
  • Males may compete directly for access to females or may instead control resources essential for female survival and reproduction.
  • Both sexes can benefit from this type of mating system
  • Males benefit by having access to multiple females because male reproductive success is limited by the number of mates
  • Females, by allowing males to compete, may also benefit by joining the harem of (and mating with) a male of high genetic quality
  • Harems typically exhibit a dominance hierarchy among the females in the group.

eg: elephant, seal.

seal mating

3. Leks:

  • A lek is a mating system where a male seeks to attract a mate
  • In lek, the male typically performs sexual displays
  • Male may be near particularly attractive females or in areas where females are likely to travel
  • It is thought that male forms leks because they attract more females than isolated males
  • Attracting more females is a strategy used by male or few males to help increase their reproductive success
  • There is no male parental investment beyond the sperm
  • Males aggregate at specific sites (Leks) for display
  • Females can select a genetically fitted mate(s)
  • E.g. Sage Grouse, birds of paradise
image 6

Polyandrous or polyandry

Polyandry is a group with one female and many males. For example, honey bee, cricket, emu. Queen honey bees mate with many drones (a dozen)

  • Polyandry is a reproductive strategy that helps a female ensure reproductive success by providing her with multiple mating options.

Types of polyandry :

1.Resource Defense Polyandry

In the Spotted Sandpiper, female control resources, which in turn controls male
mating associations

2. Cooperative Polyandry

  • The Galapagos hawk exhibits cooperative polyandry
  • In this case all males in the group copulate with the female and all participate in brood provisioning.
  • E.g. Saddle-backed tamarin: father (male) invites another male to join group, once the offspring are established one of the males gets kicked out.

Promiscuity or promiscuous or poly:

  • A mating system, there no pair-bond formation occurs
  • There is no long-term bonding or strong bonding between two sexes
  • In this case, each male mates with many females and vice versa
  • Among animal taxa, promiscuity is most common
  • In this system, there is prolonged copulation and the male provides his offspring nothing more than a set of genes (zero or least parenting by male).
  • Example: bear, wild dogs, etc.



In polygynandrous groups, multiple females and males mate with each other, and males may care for the broods of several females. Chimpanzees and bonobos rely on this strategy — it allows groups of males and females to live together and spend less time being concerned with mate competition.

Polygynandry may be advantageous from the female’s perspective because it causes paternity confusion, which decreases infanticide and allows her to have multiple males care for her brood.

Yasmin Chaudhary
Yasmin Chaudhary

Conservationists, Bsc forestry, Bsc

Articles: 21

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