Homosexuality in animals

Homosexual (as well as bisexual) behavior is widespread in the animal kingdom. Animal sexual behavior takes many different forms, even within the same species and the motivations for and implications of their behaviors have yet to be fully understood as most species have yet to be studied. A 1999 review by researcher Bruce Bagemihl shows that homosexual behavior, not necessarily sex, has been observed in close to 1500 species, ranging from primates to gut worms, and is well documented for 500 of them.

Homosexuality in animals is seen as controversial because some assert it points to the naturalness of homosexuality in humans, while others counter that it has no implications and is nonsensical to use animal behavior to justify what is or is not immoral.


Applying the term homosexual to animals

The term homosexual was coined in Prussia in 1869 to describe same-sex sexual attraction and sexual behaviour in humans . Its use in animal studies has been controversial for two main reasons: animal sexuality and motivating factors have been and remain poorly understood, and the term has strong cultural implications in western society that are irrelevant for other species than humans.

Animal preference and motivation is always inferred from behaviour. Thus homosexual behaviour has been given a number of terms over the years. The correct usage of the term homosexual is that an animal exhibit homosexual behaviour, however this article conforms to the usage by modern research applying the term homosexuality to all sexual behaviour (copulation, genital stimulation, mating games and sexual display behaviour) between animals of the same sex.

Research on homosexual behavior in animals

The presence of same-sex sexual behavior was not 'officially' observed on a large scale until recent times, possibly due to observer bias caused by social attitudes to same-sex sexual behavior. It appears to be widespread amongst social birds and mammals, particularly the sea mammals and the primates. The true extent of homosexuality in animals is not known. While studies have demonstrated homosexual behaviour in a number of species, Petter Bøckman, the scientific advisor of the exhibition Against Nature? speculate that the true extent of the phenomenon may be much larger than currently recognized:

"No species has been found in which homosexual behaviour has not been shown to exist, with the exception of species that never have sex at all, such as sea urchins and aphis. Moreover, a part of the animal kingdom is hermaphroditic, truly bisexual. For them, homosexuality is not an issue."

Some researchers believe it to have its origin in male social organization and social dominance, similar to the dominance traits shown in prison sexuality. Others, particularly Joan Roughgarden, Bruce Bagemihl, Thierry Lodé and Paul Vasey suggest the social function of sex (both homosexual and heterosexual) is not necessarily connected to dominance, but serves to strengthen alliances and social ties within a flock. Others have argued that social organization theory is inadequate because it cannot account for some homosexual behaviors, for example, penguin species where same-sex individuals mate for life and refuse to pair with females when given the chance. While reports on many such mating scenarios are still only anecdotal, a growing body of scientific work confirms that permanent homosexuality occurs in species with permanent pair bonds, but also in non-monogamous species like sheep.

One report on sheep cited below states:

"Approximately 8% of rams exhibit sexual preferences [that is, even when given a choice] for male partners (male-oriented rams) in contrast to most rams, which prefer female partners (female-oriented rams). We identified a cell group within the medial preoptic area/anterior hypothalamus of age-matched adult sheep that was significantly larger in adult rams than in ewes..." In fact, apparent homosexual individuals are known from all of the traditional domestic species.

Cross-species sex

Although a commonly held conception is that animals' sexuality is instinctive almost to the point of being mechanistic, research regularly records that many animals are sexual opportunists, and may show an interest in other partners than their own or related species. This is more visible in domesticated species, as domestication commonly selects for increased breeding rate (and so an accelerated breeding cycle has commonly arisen in domesticated species over the centuries), and also because these species are easier to witness by humans. Nevertheless non-domesticated animals have been observed to attempt sexual activity with other species, or indeed inanimate objects. This form of cross-species sex has occasionally been observed in the wild (polecat-mink, ), however most observations are from animals in captivity (such as the zoo).

If the pair are a male and a female, hybrid offspring can result if the two species are related. However, this offspring may not be able to breed itself. The mule, for example (horse/donkey cross) is normally sterile, whilst the liger (lion/tiger cross) is sometimes fertile. Novosibirsk zoo director Rostislav Shilo says on the liger (born in his zoo); "It's just that the lion and the tiger live in neighboring caves in the Novosibirsk zoo, and got used to each other. It's practically impossible in the wild.". Cross species sex in the wild has been observed between several species, among them blue tit and great tit, Chimpanzees and olive baboons and Amazon River Dolphin and the tucuxi dolphin.

Some selected species and groups

American Bison

Courtship, mounting, and full anal penetration between bulls has been noted to occur among American Bison. The Mandan nation Okipa festival concludes with a ceremonial enactment of this behaviour, to "ensure the return of the buffalo in the coming season." Also, mounting of one female by another is common among cattle. Inter-sexual bison also occur. The Lakota refer to them as pte winkte -pte meaning bison and winkte designating two-spirit- thereby drawing an explicit parallel between transgender in animals and people.


Black swans

An estimated one-quarter of all black swans pairings are homosexual and 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.


Studies have shown that 10 to 15 percent of female western gulls in some populations in the wild are lesbian.


Mallards form male-female pairs only until the female lays eggs, at which time she is left by the male. The clutch is 8-13 eggs, which are incubated for 27-28 days to hatching with 50-60 days to fledging. The ducklings are precocial, and can swim and feed themselves on insects as soon as they hatch, although they stay near the female for protection. Young ducklings are not naturally waterproof and rely on the mother to provide waterproofing. Mallards also have rates of male-male sexual activity that are unusually high for birds. In some cases, as many as 19% of pairs in a Mallard population are male-male homosexual


In early February 2004 the New York Times reported a male pair of chinstrap penguins in the Central Park Zoo in New York City were partnered and even successfully hatched a female chick from an egg. Other penguins in New York have also been reported to be forming same-sex pairs.

Zoos in Japan and Germany have also documented gay male penguin couples. The couples have been shown to build nests together and use a stone to replace an egg in the nest. Researchers at Rikkyo University in Tokyo, found 20 gay pairs at 16 major aquariums and zoos in Japan. Bremerhaven Zoo in Germany attempted to break up the gay male couples by importing female penguins from Sweden and separating the male couples, but they were unsuccessful. The zoo director stated the relationships were too strong between the gay couples.

Bonobo and other apes

The bonobo, which has a matriarchal society (unusual amongst apes), is a fully bisexual species -- both males and females engage in heterosexual and homosexual behavior, being noted for lesbianism in particular. About 60% of all sexual activity in this species is between two or more females. While the homosexual bonding system in bonobos represent the highest frequency of homosexuality known in any species, homosexuality has been reported for all great apes, including humans, as well as a number of other primate species.

Bottlenose Dolphins

Bottlenose Dolphin males have been observed working in pairs or larger groups to follow and/or restrict the movement of a female for weeks at a time, waiting for her to become sexually receptive. The same pairs/groups have also been observed engaging in ardent sexual play with each other.

Janet Mann, Georgetown University professor of biology and psychology, argues that the strong personal behaviour among male dolphin calves is about bond formation and benefits the species in an evolutionary context. She cites studies showing that these dolphins later in life as adults are in a sense bisexual, and the male bonds forged earlier in life work together for protection as well as locating females to reproduce with.


Male homosexuality has been inferred in several species of dragonflies (the order Odonata). 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.


African, as well as Asiatic males will engage in same-sex bonding and mounting. Such encounters are often associated with affectionate interactions, such as kissing, trunk intertwining, and placing trunks in each other's mouths. The encounters are analogous to heterosexual bouts, one male often extending his trunk along the other's back and pushing forward with his tusks to signify his intention to mount. Unlike heterosexual relations, which are always of a fleeting nature, those between males result in a "companionship", consisting of an older individual and one or two younger, attendant males. Same-sex relations are common and frequent in both sexes, with Asiatic elephants in captivity devoting roughly 45% of sexual encounters to same-sex activity.

Fruit flies

Male Drosophila melanogaster flies bearing two copies of a mutant allele in the fruitless gene court and attempt to mate exclusively with other males.


Researchers have treated homosexual behavior in animals as a taboo subject perhaps from innocent confusion or even from a fear of "being ridiculed by their colleagues." A case of overlooking behaviour is noted by Bruce Bagemihl describing mating giraffes where nine out of ten pairings occur between males.

Japanese Macaque

With the Japanese Macaque, also known as the "snow monkey", same-sex relations are frequent, though rates vary between troupes. Females will form "consortships" characterized by affectionate social and sexual activities. In some troops up to one quarter of the females will form such bonds, which will vary in duration from a few days to a few weeks. Often, strong and lasting friendships will 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.


Both male and female lions have been seen to interact homosexually.


An October 2003 study by Dr. Charles E. Roselli et al. (Oregon Health and Science University) states that homosexuality in male sheep (found in 8% of rams) is associated with a region in the rams' brains which the authors call the "ovine Sexually Dimorphic Nucleus" (oSDN) which is two times smaller than the corresponding region in heterosexual male sheep.

It should be noted that some view this study to be flawed in that the determination of homosexuality within the sheep (sample population of 27 for the study) was to have animals who were unable to mount female ewes placed in a cage with two stanchioned males and two unstanchioned females (i.e. the males could not move or struggle while the females could). Given the aggressive nature of sheep copulation, the uneven treatment of males and females, many see this as simply evidence that the sheep in question were unable to be aggressive enough to mount females. The results were situational sexuality, unlike the bonds seen in human homosexuality.

The scientists found that, "The oSDN in rams that preferred females was significantly larger and contained more neurons than in male-oriented rams and ewes. In addition, the oSDN of the female-oriented rams expressed higher levels of aromatase, a substance that converts testosterone to estradiol, a form of estrogen which is believed to facilitate typical male sexual behaviors. Aromatase expression was no different between male-oriented rams and ewes."

"The dense cluster of neurons that comprise the oSDN express cytochrome P450 aromatase. Aromatase mRNA levels in the oSDN were significantly greater in female-oriented rams than in ewes, whereas male-oriented rams exhibited intermediate levels of expression." These results suggest that "...naturally occurring variations in sexual partner preferences may be related to differences in brain anatomy and its capacity for estrogen synthesis." As noted prior, given the potential unagressiveness of the male population in question, the differing aromatase levels may also have been evidence of aggression levels, not sexuality. It should also be noted that the results of this study have not been confirmed by other studies.

Spotted Hyena

The female Spotted Hyena has a unique urinary-genital system, closely resembling the penis of the male. The family structure is matriarchal and dominance relationships with strong sexual elements are routinely observed between related females.

Early naturalists thought hyenas were hermaphrodites or commonly practiced homosexuality, largely due to the female spotted hyena's unique urogenital system which looks more like a penis than a vagina. According to early writings such as Ovid's Metamorphoses and the Physiologus, the hyena continually changed its sex and nature from male to female and back again. In Paedagogus, Clement of Alexandria noted that the hyena (along with the hare) was "quite obsessed with sexual intercourse." Many Europeans associated the hyena with sexual deformity, prostitution, deviant sexual behavior and even witchcraft. Research has shown that "in contrast to most other female mammals, female Crocuta are male-like in appearance, larger than males, and substantially more aggressive," they have "been masculinized without being defeminized."

This unique genitalia and aggressive behavior in the female hyena has led to the understanding that more aggressive females are better able to compete for resources including food and mating partners. Research has shown that "elevated levels of testosterone in utero" contributes to extra aggressiveness from their mother and both males and females mount members of the same sex, who in turn are possibly acting more submissive because of lower levels of testosterone from their mothers.

See also

External links

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This article is based on "Homosexuality in animals" from the free encyclopedia Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org). It is licensed under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation Licencse. In the Wikipedia you can find a list of the authors by visiting the following address: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Homosexuality+in+animals&action=history