As LGBT Pride events are held throughout the world, we wanted to join the celebration and share some of the wonderful diversity of sexual behavior and gender expression found in the animal kingdom.
Many of you probably know that both male and female bonobos, our great ape cousins, engage frequently in sex with the same gender, both in play behavior and as a form of reconciliation after fighting. But you might be surprised to learn that according to studies conducted by neurologist Dr. Simon LeVay, somewhere between 8-10% of rams refuse to mate with ewes (female sheep), instead choosing only to mate with fellow rams. In addition, a further 18-22% of rams seem to show no real preference for male or female mates.
Male lions are easily distinguishable from females because of their iconic bushy mane. But sometimes, what looks like the King of Beasts is actually the Queen. In Botswana’s Okavango Delta, there’s a small population of rare maned lionesses. The precise reason that these females are born exhibiting masculine traits isn’t exactly clear, but one of the more likely reasons is over exposure to excess testosterone when a female fetus is in utero. Some of these maned lionesses appear to behave more similarly to male lions—fighting other males and defending the pride—while others exhibit more typical lioness behavior.
Some species of whiptail lizards have all female populations. How does the population grow? They lay eggs without any need for males, and the hatchlings are exact genetic replicas of the females. Interestingly, the lizards still engage in a form of pseudo-mating, where one fulfills the “male role”, and the other the “female role”.
Perhaps the most famous example of non-human same-sex coupling are the penguins, Silo and Rory. These male chin strap penguins lived in New York’s Central Park Zoo in the late 1990s and early aughts. For years, Silo and Rory were observed engaging in courtship behavior with each other, even hatching an egg and co-parenting a chick together.
These are only a few examples of the amazing diversity present in animals throughout the world.
We wish the LGBT community a very happy Pride!