Homosexuality in the animal kingdom is more common than you think

Homosexual activity among animals has been something that stirs debate all over the world. A popular song in the 1920s by US songwriter Cole Porter “Birds do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it” would have been just a way of expressing his homosexuality in public!

At this time the birds, bees and fleas were meant to do only sex between a male and female. Zoological studies are finding that there homosexual and bisexual activity in the animal kingdom. There are some birds that do same-sex, and so do some dolphins, orangutans, sheep, fruit bats and beetles.

two gray and yellow birds on tree branch

One of the great examples for this is the six years of the inseparable relationship between Roy and Silo, two male chinstrap penguins at New York’s Central Park Zoo. What made zoologist discover their pair-bonding behaviour is the entwining of necks, flipper flapping, mutual preening, and having sex, ignoring potential female mates. There are wild birds with similar homosexual behaviour including male ostriches that do sex with own gender and male flamingos that mate, build nests and even raise foster chicks.

two white-and-black penguins on cliff

The filmmakers of National Geographic had recently shot female Japanese macaques engaged in intimate acts. It is truly baffling and intriguing of what is going on with homosexual behaviour in the animal kingdom. Studies suggest that homosexual intimacy may help female macaques to enhance their social behaviour which influences the success of breeding. Though it is non-productive for a female macaque to court another female, the control or acquisition of a good alliance partner, can impact their successful reproduction.

brown monkey on green grass during daytime

It has been well documented about animals that engage in a homosexual and bisexual activity, with same-sex sexual behaviour recorded in more than 1500 species. Biologists have been struggling all the years for explaining why this behaviour is so common when a species has no opportunity for reproduction.

two brown bears on forest

The concern of whether same-sex sexual behaviour in animals has repeatedly evolved over the millennia has been answered by researchers with why animals engage in same-sex behaviour. It is suggested that these behaviours have been part of their original, ancestral condition in animals and have persisted as they have few costs and some important benefits.

polar bear on gray rock

There have been many documented discoveries for decades that animals engage in same-sex mating, but most of them were considered as anomalies or curiosities. It is the 1999 book Biological Exuberance by Bruce Bagemihl that makes a breakthrough in the discovery of same-sex sexual activity in animals. The many examples of same-sex mating from different species that Bagemihl outlined in the book made the topic more popular, leading many scientists to make a systematic study on these behaviours. 

two gray elephant kissing near trees

The research into sexual behaviours of different species in the past was based on two assumptions. One assumption is that the same-sex behaviour has high costs because individuals spend time and energy on activities offering no potential for reproductive success and the other is that the same-sex behaviour emerged independently in different animal species and evolutionary lineages. If there is any trait other than homosexuality in such a diverse array of species will be considered as being part of ancestral DNA rather than something that evolved later.

multicolored stripe painted surface

Sexual Gratification

Several types of research on animal behaviour can to the assumption that they could be enjoying themselves through homosexual intimacy. These animals would be engaging in homosexual behaviour as it’s sexually gratifying or it’s sexually pleasurable. It doesn’t have any sort of adaptive payoff, but they just like it.

two white ducks head to head near wall

We wouldn’t have any kids around if sex wasn’t fun, and the Japanese macaques may have taken the fun aspect of sex and really run with it Studies suggest that 75 per cent of sex by Bonobo is reproductive and nearly all bonobos are bisexual. Bonobo is an African ape closely related to humans and has an even bigger sexual appetite. Bonobo species are referred to a “make love, not war” primate in the book Bonobo: The Forgotten Ape by Frans de Waal.

brown bee

There are many other animals that appear to go through a phase of homosexual intimacy before they become fully mature. There are male dolphin calves that often form temporary sexual partnerships, which are considered as a way to establish lifelong bonds. Majority of the similar sexual behaviours of animals ever documented are in relatively recent. It is often a matter of criticism that zoologist has been hiding the subject for fear of stepping into a political minefield.

focus photography of gray and black pigeons behind Eiffel Tower

Homosexual behaviour in animals still seems like a really bad idea, despite the examples cited by Bagemihl. While hundreds of species are documented to be doing it isolated occasion there is only a handful that has made it a habitual part of their lives. The animals that have homosexuality as a habitual part of their lives are the biggest example of Darwin’s Paradox. According to Darwin’s theory of evolution, the genes will die if they aren’t passed to the next generation. Homosexual behaviour isn’t an occasional event for many animals but a regular thing. That ought to be an eye opener for many!

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