Saturday, June 20, 2009

Can Wild Animals Be Gay?

Time magazine has a long article on Why Some People Are Gay: Notes (and Clues) from the Animal Kingdom.

We have known for at least a decade that hundreds of animal species — including birds, reptiles, mollusks and, of course, humans — engage in same-gender sexual acts. But no one is quite sure why....

One particularly charged finding is that in most species besides humans, same-gender pairings rarely lead to lifelong relationships. In other words, when one attractive bonobo male eyes another in a lovely patch of Congo swamp forest, they occasionally kiss and then move on to other oral pleasures, but they don't bother anyone afterward about trying to legalize their right to an open-banana-bar ceremony. In fact, they are likely to move on to girl bonobos: most animals that engage in same-gender sex acts do so only when an opposite-sex partner is unavailable.... And yet the study's authors, Nathan Bailey and Marlene Zuk of UC Riverside's biology department, report some exceptions, like the laysan albatross. Last year, researchers studying a Hawaiian colony of albatrosses found that nearly a third of all the couples involved two females who courted and then shared parenting responsibilities.... Male chinstrap penguins also form long-term relationships, at least in captivity. And some male bighorn sheep will mount females only after the females adopt male-like behaviors.

So what's the conclusion to the article?

There isn't one! No one knows anything for sure, other than a certain amount of this kind of thing seems to be entirely natural, if (obviously) exceptional.

And, of course, some animals are more gender-bender than others:

Bottlenose Dolphins are, apparently, "possibly the most bisexual animal on earth" and engage in frequent same-sex sexual activity. Roughly 50% of male dolphins have sex with other males. Scientists think this sex may help strengthen alliances among small groups.


Heather Houlahan said...

Begging the question. Bottlenose dolphins, bonobos, bighorn sheep, etc. do not pair-bond across genders. So why should they go exclusive if they happen to be getting their gay on?

The lesbian albatrosses for whom Heather has Two Mommies -- did they use an albatross-baster?

smartdogs said...

Humans are unique only in our odd insistence on making moral judgements about each other's sexual practices.

sassanik said...

The bonobo example doesn't seem to make a whole lot of sense to me. From my understanding the females of the bonobo's don't normally form long term heterosexual relationships, so why would the males do so?

It seems silly to me to comment on them not having a long term relationship when it is not the species norm.

HTTrainer said...

This may be now a disproven theory, but when I read Konrad Lorenz in the 70's he wrote about over crowding and a rise in same sex behaviors and the rise of psychoses in the studied population. I think that what he wrote still has some relevance; same sex pairings are different than social bondings which maintain societal cohesion for many. Once the population density decreased these behaviors stopped.
Is it possible that certain behaviors keep the least fit out of the gene pool?

PBurns said...

I have never read Konrad Lorenz on gay animals, so far as I can recall, but there are some species where crowding seems to create homosexual behavior. One is with beavers (insert your own crude joke here), and another is with Seagulls on sandbanks. Other species engage in population control by eating their young, while a LOT of animals engage in population control through a system of "satellite females" and lone males. This last is the way fox, wolf and lion limit procreation.