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Homosexuality in Animals: Undermining Biological Homophobia

Kate Byng-Hall reports as two pairs of lesbian penguins have formed at London’s Sea Life aquarium.

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Photo by Pam Ivey

The emergence of two lesbian penguin pairs at London’s Sea Life aquarium is the latest development in substantiating the theory that homosexual behaviour is a natural biological phenomenon.

The two pairs of female gentoo penguins – Marmalade and Chickpea, and Marama and Rocky – have been seen carrying out the mating rituals of bringing each other pebbles which they will later use to build a nest. While the former couple are newly-formed, the latter have already raised a chick together back in 2019 after its biological mother couldn’t cope.

“Gentoo penguins are the ultimate romantics, and their dating techniques are truly unique – so much so that as humans, we could certainly learn a thing or two from their passion and commitment to finding a mate. As well as our male-female penguin couples, this breeding season we also have two female same-sex couples who are also going through their nesting rituals.” – Catherine Pritchard, Sea Life Manager

Same-sex behaviour like this is not uncommon among penguins, and is substantial proof that homosexual tendencies are not reserved solely for humans, and thus cannot simply be a man-made social construct or (as some see it) a manifestation of ‘unnatural’ sin.

A Long-Established Trend

The observation of homosexual habits in animals isn’t a recent one. In 1910, scientists on an expedition to Antarctica observed sex between male adélie penguins, yet the research paper including the information was only published in 100 copies. More than a century ago, much of the world was far from ready to accept homosexuality in humans let alone in the animal kingdom.

For years, the idea of animals subverting heteronormativity was dismissed as defying Darwin’s theory of evolution as they are unable to conceive offspring themselves, but it’s recently been theorised that homosexuality in animal populations can support evolution by strengthening communities and reinforcing social bonds.

Penguins are not the only species for which homosexual behaviour has been reported. In fact, there is evidence that at least 1,500 species throughout the animal kingdom have tendencies to form same-sex couples. Whether practising same-sex intercourse or committing to long-term same-sex relationships, species ranging from insects to birds to mammals frequently exhibit bisexual or homosexual individuals.

“Being homosexual is very common and no problem in the natural world at all. In fact, we see more heterophobia than homophobia in the animal kingdom.” – Jasper Buikx, biologist at Amsterdam's ARTIS Zoo

Various species which have been seen to display homosexual behaviours include giraffes, lions, dolphins, vultures, bison, albatrosses, walruses, beetles and sheep. It’s even been estimated that a fifth of all swan couples are homosexual. There seem to be no boundaries on which species can display homosexual patterns and under which circumstances.

Scientific Proof

Some scientists have attempted to explain the manifestation of homosexuality in animals. U.S. researchers collected a sample of domesticated rams and provided the option of a mixed-sex group of other sheep/rams from whom to select a partner – between 6 and 12% of rams chose another ram to mate with. Research found that in the brains of the rams who chose a male partner, their hypothalamus (the part of the brain which releases sex hormones) was smaller, suggesting that homosexual behaviours could be dictated by a tangible biological difference.

While research on this subject is likely to remain at least partly speculative as it’s impossible to ask animals to explain their sexual preferences, the exhibition of same-sex behaviours among animals who are uninfluenced by societal factors can be seen to provide evidence that homosexual tendencies are naturally-occurring.


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