MadSci Network: Zoology

Re: Could an animal be homosexual?

Date: Sun May 28 14:47:28 2000
Posted By: A.E., Undergraduate, Cell biology and genetics, University of British Columbia
Area of science: Zoology
ID: 957229910.Zo

Hi Adam.
Indeed some animals are, at least according to observations by some 
scientists, in particular, Bruce Bagemihl.

Here's a complete article from the Time Magazine.  I found it at:,3266,23309,00.html

The Gay Side of Nature

Even as moralists and activists continue to debate homosexuality, many 
species casually practice it


Giraffes do it, goats do it, birds and bonobos and dolphins do it. Humans 
beings--a lot of them anyway--like to do it too, but of all the planet's 
species, they're the only ones who are oppressed when they try.

What humans share with so many other animals, it now appears, is 
freewheeling homosexuality. For centuries opponents of gay rights have 
seen same-gender sex as a uniquely human phenomenon, one of the many ways 
our famously corruptible species flouts the laws of nature. But nature's 
morality, it seems, may be remarkably flexible, at least if the new book 
Biological Exuberance (St. Martin's Press), by linguist and cognitive 
scientist Bruce Bagemihl, is to be believed. According to Bagemihl, the 
animal kingdom is a more sexually complex place than most people know--one 
where couplings routinely take place not just between male-female pairs 
but also between male-male and female-female ones. What's more, same-sex 
partners don't meet merely for brief encounters, but may form long-term 
bonds, sometimes mating for years or even for life.

Bagemihl's ideas have caused a stir in the higher, human community, 
especially among scientists who find it simplistic to equate any animal 
behavior with human behavior. But Bagemihl stands behind the findings, 
arguing that if homosexuality comes naturally to other creatures, perhaps 
it's time to quit getting into such a lather over the fact that it comes 
naturally to humans too. "Animal sexuality is more complex than we 
imagined," says Bagemihl. "That diversity is part of human heritage."

For a love that long dared not speak its name, animal homosexuality is 
astonishingly common. Scouring zoological journals and conducting 
extensive interviews with scientists, Bagemihl found same-sex pairings 
documented in more than 450 different species. In a world teeming with 
more than 1 million species, that may not seem like much. Animals, 
however, can be surprisingly prim about when and under whose prying eye 
they engage in sexual activity; as few as 2,000 species have thus been 
observed closely enough to reveal their full range of coupling behavior. 
Within such a small sampling, 450 represents more than 20%.

That 20% may spend its time lustily or quite tenderly. Among bonobos, a 
chimplike ape, homosexual pairings account for as much as 50% of all 
sexual activity. Females especially engage in repeated acts of same-sex 
sex, spending far more than the 12 or so seconds the whole transaction can 
take when a randy male is involved. Male giraffes practice necking--
literally--in a very big way, entwining their long bodies until both 
partners become sexually aroused. Heterosexual and homosexual dolphin 
pairs engage in face-to-face sexual encounters that look altogether human. 
Animals as diverse as elephants and rodents practice same-sex mounting, 
and macaques raise that affection ante further, often kissing while 
assuming a coital position. Same-gender sexual activity, says Bagemihl, 
"encompasses a wide range of forms."

What struck Bagemihl most is those forms that go beyond mere sexual 
gratification. Humboldt penguins may have homosexual unions that last six 
years; male greylag geese may stay paired for 15 years--a lifetime 
commitment when you've got the lifespan of a goose. Bears and some other 
mammals may bring their young into homosexual unions, raising them with 
their same-sex partner just as they would with a member of the opposite 

But witnessing same-sex activity and understanding it are two different 
things, and some experts believe observers like Bagemihl are misreading 
the evidence. In species that lack sophisticated language--which is to say 
all species but ours--sex serves many nonsexual purposes, including 
establishing alliances and appeasing enemies, all things animals must do 
with members of both sexes. "Sexuality helps animals maneuver around each 
other before making real contact," says Martin Daly, an evolutionary 
psychologist at McMaster University in Ontario. "Putting all that into a 
homosexual category seems simplistic."

Even if some animals do engage in homosexual activity purely for pleasure, 
their behavior still serves as an incomplete model--and an incomplete 
explanation--for human behavior. "In our society homosexuality means a 
principal or exclusive orientation," says psychology professor Frans de 
Waal of the Yerkes Primate Center in Atlanta. "Among animals it's just 
nonreproductive sexual behavior."

Whether any of this turns out to be good for the gay and lesbian community 
is unclear. While the new findings seem to support the idea that 
homosexuality is merely a natural form of sexual expression, Bagemihl 
believes such political questions may be beside the point. "We shouldn't 
have to look to the animal world to see what's normal or ethical," he 
says. Indeed, when it comes to answering those questions, Mother Nature 
seems to be keeping an open mind. END
For something more try this website:

I found the following article funny and amusing so you should try it.  
It's about Dashik and Yahuda, two male vultures, who have raised two baby 
Here's the address:

And finally here's the address to my own website for further links and 

Arash E.
Cellular Biology and Genetics
University of British Columbia

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