Are penguins the queerest animals?
People need to know.
It’s quite common for penguins to form same-sex couples, both in the wild and in captivity. Roy and Silo of New York City’s Central Park Zoo are among the most famous gay penguins – the Chinstrap Penguins successfully hatched an egg in 1999, their chick was called Tango.
Other notable same-sex penguin couples include Sphen and Magic in Sydney, and Skipper and Ping in Berlin.
It’s relatively common for zoos around the world to report same-sex penguin couples getting together during breeding season.
The latest example is a pair of male Humboldt penguins at a New York zoo that have become foster parents to a new hatchling. Humboldt penguins are native to the Pacific coast of South America.
The Rosamond Gifford Zoo in Syracuse says the same-sex foster couple, Elmer and Lima, are a first for the zoo. Zoo officials have described how Elmer and Lima watched over an egg that came from a pair of breeding penguins that have a history of inadvertently breaking their fertilised eggs. They were successful, and the chick hatched on New Year’s Day.
Zookeepers had tested the duo first by putting a dummy egg in a nest the pair built together last fall during the current breeding season.
“Elmer and Lima were exemplary in every aspect of egg care…” confirmed the zoo.
After the pair passed the test, officials removed the dummy egg and replaced it with a real one. The duo took turns incubating the egg until the chick hatched. Now that the chick has arrived, Elmer and Lima continue to both care for it.
But it’s not only penguins that are breaking the heteronormative stereotypes of the animal kingdom – same-sex sexual behaviour has been observed in more than 1,500 animal species.
Which are the gayest animals?
What about giraffes?
“Ninety per cent of giraffes are gay…” declared Dawn Butler – the Labour Party’s spokesperson for women and equalities – speaking at an awards event earlier this month. “Let’s just accept people for who they are and live as our true, authentic selves.”
However, not everyone is convinced by Butler’s assessment.
“While I totally agree with Dawn Butler’s comment that we should accept people for who they are, she is incorrect in her comment that giraffes are gay…” said Stephanie Fennessy, director of the Giraffe Conservation Foundation in Namibia. “Sometimes they fake-hump each other, which is also dominance behaviour. Dogs do that as well. And when you see them necking, it’s fighting. It’s vicious. They can kill each other.”
But the debate about whether giraffes are queer isn’t clear cut.
“At the moment, I don’t think we have enough research to know why the males do it…” said Dr Natalie Cooper – a researcher in life sciences at the Natural History Museum. “There are usually females around, so it’s not just because there are no females.”
According to Cooper’s understanding of giraffe research, same-sex necking, licking, nuzzling and mounting between male giraffes is not always an aggressive act. Indeed, it may not be aggressive at all, and sometimes includes genital stimulation.
As a species, giraffes don’t form couples of any kind. Adult females live together in herds, and only mate with the transient males who manage to be dominant enough, or surreptitious enough, to visit them at the right time.
“Giraffes don’t have a sexual orientation…” adds Cooper. “That’s a human thing.”
Seahorses are fairly incredible creatures.
Pygmy Seahorses are particularly special as it is the male who carries the fertilised eggs and gives birth to their offspring.
Pygmy Seahorses live on gorgonian seafans – camouflaging themselves by matching their colour and texture to the coral on which they live.