Birds do it, bees do it, and apparently giraffes, dolphins and elephants do it too. The “it” being engaging in homosexual behaviour.
A new study by California scientists published in the journal Trends in Ecology & Evolution claims that same-sex coupling occurs in virtually all existing animal species.
The idea of homosexuality among animals is controversial because it doesn’t jibe with the biological imperative given same-sex couplings can’t reproduce.
But, in some cases, like that of Laysan albatrosses, if a male-female pair produces eggs and “dad” dies or takes off, another female often steps in to help raise the chicks, increasing their chances of survival. In other cases, it seems like more of a time killer, as with male Bottlenose dolphins that engage in sexual play with other males until the female is sexually mature and ready for action.
Still others, like male fruit flies, are just too daft to distinguish males or females because they lack a gene that would help tell them apart.
Still, despite the evidence, researchers who support the existence of homosexuality among animals are often accused of having an agenda, using the presence of homosexuality in animals to justify it among humans.
But Canadian biologist Bruce Bagemihl, author of Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity emphasizes the opposite. “It’s too easy to say, because homosexuality occurs in animals, it must be natural in people,” he explains. “Animals do many things we wouldn’t consider acceptable behaviour in people — rape, incest and so on.”
And, as Bagemihl’s research reveals, while there may be an explanation for homosexual behaviour in one species, no general explanation applies. “I think we need to re-examine why we’re looking for an explanation in the first place,” he says. “Maybe, for example, they’re just having fun.”
Back on our farm growing up, it wasn’t uncommon to see Bossy mounting Flossie out in the pasture. Was it because certain cows had secret homosexual yearnings or was it simply that there was no Bart the Bull available to mess around with?
“The whole question of sexual pleasure is tough for zoologists to deal with,” adds Bagemihl. “There is a continuum of sexual expression in the animal world that includes heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality and everything in between. Why can’t we see this behaviour as a natural variation in sexual expression?”
After all, hanging out in the jungle all day, catching bugs and swinging from vines has to get a little dull.
For more from Josey, visit her Sexcetera blog at www.metronews.ca/blogs.
– Josey Vogels is a sex and relationship columnist and author of five books on the subjects. For more info, visit www.joseyvogels.com.