Animal Love


Have you ever wondered…do animals feel love?

A western meadowlark in a snippet of a watercolor illustration I did for my West Eugene Wetlands Project.



















It’s not a question I would ask a wildlife biologist—anthropomorphism is frowned on in the scientific community. But I am an artist, not a scientist, so I get free license to think about these questions. (It’s one of the benefits of being an artist. Low pay…but you get away with a lot more.) Besides…it’s Valentines Day. And, I think the questions about what makes us human—and other creatures not—are interesting. Are we special because we feel complex emotions like love? Or are we just different—one species among many?

West Eugene Wetlands is the site of a restored wet prairie habitat, including plants such as tufted hairgrass which provides habitat for a multitude of creatures, including meadowlarks.  Male meadowlarks often have two mates at the same time, while the female does most of the brooding and feeding work. Hmmm. Now there’s a lifestyle that wouldn’t fly in most human households.














When I was a very small child, I asked my mother what love was. She told me that when you love someone very much, you care more about them than yourself. You would even give up your own life to save them if need be.

A Townsend vole hiding in the tufted hairgrass. These voles breed all year long and can have up to 18 young per year.



















We’ve all seen enough Nature Shows to know there are many extraordinary things animals do to care for and protect their young or even their mates. Humans aren’t unique in that regard. But with animals, is it love? Or just self-interest—merely an instinct to pass on their genes? We’ll never know, of course, because we can’t ask them. Or at least…they can’t answer.

Pacific treefrogs, also called chorus frogs, are famous for their mating calls. My friend Patricia K. Lichen, in her book “Passionate Slugs and Hollywood Frogs” writes: “Male treefrogs sing for sex from February to June. A female attracted to the commotion is seized from behind by one of the troubadours; he clings to her until she releases her eggs, which he then fertilizes.”   Well, same with humans, right? Girls always go for the guys in the band.
















Of course, imagining that animals have human-style emotions is easier if the animals are cute, like penguins, polar bears, or meercats. But what about the ones that are not fluffy and cute, like insects? They may be beautiful…but they are so very different from us. Can you imagine they feel love?

Green darners—at least according to Wikipedia—mate in something called “The Wheel Position”. It looks pretty Kama Sutra to me.

This beautiful butterfly is called the Common Wood Nymph. I wonder why it was named nymph, a term from Greek lore often used to describe a promiscuous young female? Maybe it was an entomologist who was spending too many late nights alone in the laboratory…






























Well, I surely have not answered the question of animal love. (Another benefit of art—you get to ask, but you don’t have to answer.)

But, here’s a parting thought. How do you know if someone really loves you? How do any of us know if people really feel love?

It is only because we can say the word?   _____________________________________________________________________________


Leave a comment with your wild ideas about love, nature, Valentines Day, tufted hairgrass or anything you like! And, in case you missed it, check out my little video, Primordial Valentine, about the secret love life of the plant world. It’s only 2 minutes long. And there’s music.

8 thoughts on “Animal Love

  1. I asked our German Shepherd, Maya, if she loves Peggy. She looked at me like I was an idiot. Certainly by your mother’s definition she does. But really – when she sits and looks at Peggy, you can see it in her eyes.

  2. Beautiful post, and I just love these images…. So very sweet. I do believe that ALL LIFE on this planet expresses love, just not perhaps in the same way that we humans may. We’re extremely cocky and arrogant, if we believe ourselves the only species capable of it!!

    • My pleasure, Pat. I use your wonderful book(s) all the time when researching my topics and always appreciate your amusing, yet informative style. For those of you who don’t know Ms. Lichen, she also has written a great eco-novel, “Kidnapping the Lorax” Check it out!

  3. Well, as Burroughs said, language is a virus…I really think it’s a plague that gets us into all kinds of trouble. Love, for example. At any rate, I believe we could learn a lot from animals about “love”….and I try to learn something every day. Nice V-day post, thanks Denise!

    • Thanks, Cass! Yes, language and communication is a tricky one…but you’re right, we can learn a lot from the non-human world.

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