Homosexual behavior* in animals has always been observed by both biologists and lay people, but it was not until the 1990s that science began to take it seriously. Since Bruce Bagemihl’s seminal 1999 book “Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity,” the behavior has been observed in 1,500 species and is well understood in 500.
Until recently, the behavior and its inferences was dismissed due to observer bias, or assumed to be a prelude to ‘real’ heterosexual behavior. According to Bagemihl: “the animal kingdom [does] it with much greater sexual diversity – including homosexual, bisexual and non-reproductive sex – than the scientific community and society at large have previously been willing to accept.”
Paul Vasey, animal behavior professor at the University of Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada, says:
“They’re engaging in the behavior because it’s gratifying sexually or it’s sexually pleasurable. They just like it. It doesn’t have any sort of adaptive payoff.”
Said Petter Bøckman, academic adviser for the Against Nature? exhibit held at Oslo’s Natural History Museum in 2007:
Many researchers have described homosexuality as something altogether different from sex. They must realise that animals can have sex with who they will, when they will and without consideration to a researcher’s ethical principles.
That exhibit then traveled to five other European cities. One of its aims was to “help to de-mystify homosexuality among people … we hope to reject the all too well known argument that homosexual behaviour is a crime against nature.”
Sex, courtship, affection, pair bonding, and parenting among same sex animals have all been observed. Exclusive homosexual orientation appears to be rare, although it is found in domesticated sheep, with about one in ten of rams (males) refusing to mate with ewes (females). A 2009 review of existing research showed that same-sex behavior is a nearly universal phenomenon in the animal kingdom, common across species.
The idea of ‘gay’ animals has been widely picked up in media reports. The most famous case being of Roy and Silo, a male pair of chinstrap penguins in the Central Park Zoo in New York City who in 2004 successfully hatched and fostered a female chick named Tango from a fertile egg they had been given to incubate.
Silo later took up with a female penguin, Scrappy, and both are still thriving at 25 years old at the zoo. A 2010 study by France’s Centre for Functional and Evolutionary Ecology found that homosexual pairings in penguins is widespread, but they don’t usually last more than a few years.
Their story became the basis of the illustrated children’s book “And Tango Makes Three” (see cover), which has gone on to be one of the most challenged books in American libraries.
Many other stories of ‘gay’ penguins have since appeared in the media and become the source of heated debate, with the religious right citing Silo’s move to Scrappy as Exhibit A on their side of the ‘nature/lifestyle’ argument. The ‘nature/potential crime’ implications are decidedly political. Homosexuality in animals was cited in the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down the sodomy laws of 14 states.
Click through for more stories of homosexuality in animals, like Bison, Bonobos — and Dragonflies >>>
*’Exhibiting Homosexual behavior’ is the correct scientific term.
The Merck Manual of Veterinary Medicine considers homosexuality among sheep as a routine occurrence and an issue to be dealt with as a problem of animal husbandry.
Rams (male sheep) have attracted a lot of study, because researchers keep finding a proportion, around one in ten, which are exclusively homosexual. A 2003 study by Dr. Charles E. Roselli of Oregon Health and Science University found that the homosexual sheep had a region of their brains which was different to those of other sheep.
Roselli’s work was controversial with both People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and some LGBT activists protesting — the latter because they thought it might lead to a ‘gay prenatal cure.’
Affectionate rams picture by Ambersky235
Male homosexuality has been inferred in several species of dragonflies.
The cloacal pinchers of male damselflies and dragonflies inflict characteristic head damage to females during sex.
A survey of 11 species of damsel and dragonflies has revealed such mating damages in 20 to 80% of the males too, indicating a fairly high occurrence of sexual coupling between males.
Picture by theclyde
Female Whiptail lizards can reproduce through parthenogenesis and engage in sexual behavior to stimulate ovulation. Their behavior follows their hormonal cycles. During low levels of estrogen, these lizards engage in “masculine” sexual roles. Those animals with currently high estrogen levels assume “feminine” sexual roles.
Performing the courtship ritual results in greater fertility.
Picture by ehoyer
Both male and female lions have been seen to interact homosexually.
Male lions pair-bond for a number of days and initiate homosexual activity with affectionate nuzzling and caressing, leading to mounting and thrusting (see numerous YouTube videos).
Observations are of about 8% of mountings being between males. Between females, sexual activity has been observed in captivity but has not been observed in the wild.
Picture by Tambako the Jaguar
25% of all black swan pairings are of males, with most pairing for life. They steal nests, or form temporary threesomes with females to obtain eggs, driving away the female after she lays the eggs.
More of their cygnets survive to adulthood than those of different-sex pairs, possibly due to their superior ability to defend large portions of land.
Picture by ajft
Mallard ducks form male-female pairs only until the female lays eggs, at which time the male (drake) leaves the female. Up to a fifth of male Mallards have been observed as having homosexual activity, unusually high for birds.
When they pair off with mating partners, often one or several drakes end up “left out.” This group sometimes targets an isolated female duck, even one of a different species, and proceeds to chase and peck at her until she weakens, at which point the males take turns copulating with the female.
Drakes also occasionally chase other male ducks of a different species, and even each other, in the same way. In one documented case of “homosexual necrophilia,” a male Mallard copulated with another male he was chasing after the chased male died upon flying into a glass window.
Picture by Wikipedia
Courtship, mounting and full anal penetration between bulls has been noted to occur among American Bison. The Mandan nation of North Dakota have an Okipa festival which concludes with a ceremonial enactment of this behavior, to “ensure the return of the buffalo in the coming season.”
The Lakota refer to them as pte winkte — pte meaning buffalo and winkte designating two-spirit — thereby drawing an explicit parallel between transgender in animals and people.
Picture by e_monk
The matriarchal Bonobo Chimpanzee species is fully bisexual — both males and females engage in heterosexual and homosexual behavior, but female-female homosexuality is particularly common.
About 60% of all sexual activity in this species is between two or more females. They don’t form permanent monogamous sexual relationships with individual partners.
Bonobo sex often occurs in aggressive contexts totally unrelated to food. A jealous male might chase another away from a female, after which the two males reunite and engage in scrotal rubbing. Or after a female hits a juvenile, the latter’s mother may lunge at the aggressor, an action that is immediately followed by genital rubbing between the two adults.
They also do not seem to discriminate in their sexual behavior by sex or age, with the possible exception of abstaining from sexual intercourse between mothers and their adult sons.
Homosexuality has been reported for all great apes (including humans).
Picture by A-TANMAN
Among matrilineal Japanese macaques, same-sex relations are frequent. Females will form “consortships” characterized by affectionate social and sexual activities.
In some troops, up to one quarter of the females form such bonds, which vary in duration from a few days to a few weeks. Often, strong and lasting friendships result from such pairings.
Males also have same-sex relations, typically with multiple partners of the same age. Affectionate and playful activities are associated with such relations.
Picture by A-TANMAN
In 1998, two endangered male Griffon vultures named Dashik and Yehuda, at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo, engaged in “open and energetic sex” and built a nest.
The keepers provided the couple with an artificial egg, which the two parents took turns incubating; and 45 days later, the zoo replaced the egg with a baby vulture. The two male vultures raised the chick together.
“They did a great job,” said the zoo’s Sigalit Dvir. “They shaded him on hot days, they brought him water from a pond, they fed him, they stopped him falling from the nest.”
A few years later, however, Yehuda became interested in a female vulture that was brought into the aviary. Dashik became depressed, and was eventually moved to the zoological research garden at Tel Aviv University, where he too set up a nest with a female vulture.
In 2010, two male vultures at the Allwetter Zoo in Muenster, Germany built a nest together, although they were picked on and often had their nest materials stolen by other vultures. They were eventually separated to try to promote breeding by placing one of them with female vultures, despite the protests of German gay groups.
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Picture courtesy of Allwetter Zoo, Muenster