Top 6 Animals That Form Lifelong Friendships

Are humans the only animals that form long-lasting relationships and friendships with unrelated individuals? No, not at all. Five minutes on YouTube will show you countless acts of animals, wild and captive, forming bonds inside and outside of their species. And we all know already that they can create amazing bonds with us, human animals.

Do animals form friendships? Yes, there are animal species that form friendships that can last lifelong. This is really remarkable because most animals have only acquaintances.

Let’s have a look at six species that form stronger bonds with other members of their species.

1. Bats

Like many primates, some bat species can form strong bonds with each other and often maintain these friendships even after being uprooted.

New research on vampire bats showed that vampire bats build friendships in the same way people do, by starting slow and deepening over time into potentially life-saving bonds. But how does this bond start?

Bonding starts with unrelated individuals first grooming each other, then eventually regurgitating blood to share. Blood-sharing tends to be reciprocal, with bats more likely to provide a meal to a partner that has shared with them in the past. Isn’t that amazing?

Bats are mammals with their forelimbs adapted as wings, they are the only mammals capable of true and sustained flight and are more maneuverable than birds.

2. Cows

Cow friendship wasn’t a subject of scientific research for a long time as scientists were more focused on aggression between cows, because fighting between animals can result in physical injuries and of course economic loss for farmers and big agro-corporations.

Luckily, researchers are starting to wake up and are realizing that cows can be pretty intelligent as well and are capable of forming friendships. This friendship is expressed foremost in grazing and licking.

The majority of cows in the United States are artificially inseminated and a single Holstein bull, born in 1974, was the progenitor of more than 80,000 young calves that are removed from their mothers soon after birth.

A study of a commercial herd in the United Kingdom found that put to pasture, more than half of the animals spent time eating and resting alongside a specific individual and cows seem to lick the heads, necks, and backs of other cows for a reason similar to why chimpanzees groom each other – to bond.

This isn’t only observed in domesticated animals as wild bovines, too, can form platonic partnerships.

Licking actually reduced bovine heart rates; but only for the receivers of licks and being separated from their friends made cow’s stress levels rise which had an adverse effect on the amount of milk being produced.

Surprisingly, the friendship between cows and people also appears to affect bovine productivity, and perhaps contentment. A 2009 survey of more than 500 British dairy farmers revealed that cows that had been given names produced 258 more liters of milk than did cows that went unnamed and thus unrecognized as individuals. Amazing!

3. Chimpanzees

Chimpanzees are next on the list of animals capable of forming long-lasting friendships and not only acquaintances. In fact, chimpanzees are acting around their friends similarly to humans.

Chimpanzees that are friends mostly do what humans do; share food, rest together, observe their environment, and groom each other. Chimpanzees equally groom each other during the day, which is an indication that their friendship will last a long time. Studies have proven that male chimpanzee friendships last for about seven years, and some even a lifetime. When they experience great stress, chimpanzees seek comfort and security in their chimpanzee friends, and they then caress, hug, and express sympathy.

As Jan Engelmann of the Max Planck Institute explains “…chimpanzees, form close and long-term emotional bonds with select individuals. These animal friendships show important parallels with close relationships in humans. One shared characteristic is the tendency to selectively trust friends in costly situations.”

Sometimes a chimp will get into a fight with another chimp, as you do, and after a fight often reconcile using grooming or even mouth-to-mouth kissing.

Researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology showed that “chimpanzees were significantly more likely to voluntarily place resources at the disposal of a partner, and thus to choose a risky but potentially high-payoff option, when they interacted with a friend as compared to a non-friend.”

4. Dolphins

We already know that dolphins are amazing and complex animals so it should come as no surprise that dolphins have long-lasting friendships and they form cliques while shunning other groups.

They can even establish strong social bonds when it comes to injured and ill dolphins. Dolphins will stay with ill and injured dolphins, and help them breathe. They do this by bringing them to the surface and making sure their friend is okay!

Dolphins are just like us and form close friendships with other dolphins that have a common interest.

Friendships among female dolphins are very similar to those of female friends who go out at night together. Dolphin females protect their friends from males trying to mate with them, as well as from sharks and other predators, one study found.

Also, male dolphin friendships are similar to male friendships. They move in groups of two or three, and the purpose of their joint movement is to help each other win a female.

Manuela Bizzozzero, the lead author of the study at the University of Zurich, says: “Male dolphins in Shark Bay exhibit a fascinating social system of nested alliance formation. These strong bonds between males can last for decades and are critical to each male’s mating success. We were very excited to discover alliances of spongers, dolphins forming close friendships with others with similar traits.”

5. Elephants

It has been observed that elephants, in the wild or in zoos, form close, sometimes lifelong friendships with other elephants. They eat together, bathe together, and show their love by hugging their friends by sticking their ears and trunks over their heads. Elephants are extremely social animals.

Elephants show high levels of positive interactions and they have strong bonds with their herd mates. They give assistance to fallen or injured herd mates and care of other herd mates’ calves.

One study showed that some zoo elephants will spend significantly more time interacting with and spending time near certain herd mates than with others. Additionally, some elephants show distress when separated from certain but not all herd mates.

Elephants have a variety of complex vocalizations that they use to communicate with their herd members and express how they are currently feeling. Some of them are trumpet, chirp, squeak or rumble.

6. Horses

According to famed horse trainer Dan ‘Buck’ Brannaman, horses can display many of the emotions that humans possess, including being confident or unsure, worried or bold and timid or tense. Buck was the inspiration behind the 1998 film The Horse Whisperer.

A study at Aix-Marseille Université in France in the 1980s found that horse friends spend much time together and always rest in each other’s company as most horses are believed to have only one or two preferred social partners, regardless of the size of the group they live in.

Horses naturally live in herds and a normal horse is never alone by choice.

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Adrian Volenik

I've lived around animals my whole life and I hold a Diploma in Animal Physiology. When I'm not reading or writing about wild animals, health and fitness, and technology, you can find me playing with my son and two cats. My pastimes include running, playing video games, and solving the NY Times crossword.