Celebrating Same-Sex Love Across The Animal Kingdom
If you want to find same-sex relationships in the animal kingdom, you don't have to search very far. About 1,500 different species, from sheep to sperm whales, from king penguins to koalas on down to kangaroo rats, have been spotted engaging in same-sex behavior.
Like humans, these animals mate, court, raise offspring and have sex in pairs of the opposite sex. And -- just like humans -- animals will also mate, court, raise offspring and have sex in male-male or female-female pairings, too.
1. Take, for example, the male zebra finch.
These Australian avians are more likely to prefer male to females if they've been raised by solo fathers, according to a recent study in the journal Animal Behavior. Three-fourths of the motherless males that pair-bonded (akin to monogamous couples in humans) did so with other males. "They were actively looking for other males to bond with," Sunayana Banerjee, a psychologist at Cornell University in New York and an author of the study, tells Live Science.
2. There's also elephants.
An elephant brought to a Polish zoo made headlines in 2009 for his preference for "male friends." Such a preference also occurs among male elephants in the wild, according to Bruce Bagemihl in his book Biological Exuberance (and this YouTube video).
Female-female pairs of Laysan albatrosses are so common -- in one albatross territory, 39 out of 125 nests belonged to two female birds -- that ornithologist Lindsay Young was asked to fly rainbow flags over their nests by a gay-rights advocate. (She didn't.)
4. About those macaques:
When filmmakers set out to capture the lives of Japanese macaques, they found something surprising: lots of female-female sex. "I think that maybe Japanese macaques have taken the fun aspect of sex and really run with it," Matthew Grober, a biology professor at Georgia State University, tells National Geographic. "If [sex] wasn't fun, we wouldn't have any kids around."
5. And, of course, penguins.
Same-sex behavior in penguins been observed since 1911, but would fly under the radar until a pair of male chinstrap penguins hatched a chick in a New York City zoo. But it's not just in captivity -- wild king penguins will flirt with members of the same sex and form pairs, too.
Up to 8 percent of male sheep have a sexual preference for other male sheep, according to the scientists behind a 2006 study. There's also "compelling evidence," they wrote, that the sheeps' sexual partner preferences are influenced by neural development in the womb.
7. Consider the giraffes:
Male giraffes have been spotted courting each other -- while ignoring females -- by rubbing necks.
8. And, of course, the mascot of the sexual revolution, the bonobos.
Sex is a cornerstone of bonobo society. (The "bonobo handshake"? Sex.) Essentially every bonobo is bisexual, and three out of four bonobo sexual encounters are nonreproductive.
Though it might be tempting to use these animal observations to draw conclusions about human behavior, scientists caution against going too far. "A lot of zoologists are suspicious, I think, of applying the same evolutionary principles to humans that they apply to animals," Paul Vasey, a macaque researcher, told the New York Times in 2010. "But broadly speaking, research on animals can inform research on humans."
But that doesn't mean there isn't something truly unique to humans, found only among us out of all the species on the planet: Homophobia, as far as we can tell, exists nowhere else except in human society.