Animal

There are lots of gay animals, so why are scientists ignoring them?


Same-sex sexual behaviour has been observed throughout the animal kingdom (Picture: Getty/iStockphoto)

Gay love in the animal world is nothing new.

Bonobo chimps are among the most famous species to pair up with their own sex, alongside dolphins, penguins and albatrosses.

Lesser-known gay species include mole rats, ground squirrels and elephants.

However, for some reason most scientists who see same-sex pairings are not reporting them. 

In a new study published in the journal PLOS One, researchers at the University of Toronto spoke to 65 experts on how often they observe same-sex sexual behaviour (SSSB) in the animal kingdom and how often they report it. 

The results were not all that surprising. 

The researchers revealed that 77% of responses had observed same-sex behaviour in animals, but less than half (48%) had collected data on it, and just 19% ended up publishing their findings. 

The behaviour was observed in animals such as monkeys, squirrels, mongooses, elephants, mole rats and orcas, and the behaviour reported include ‘mounting, intromission, and genital-oral or manual-genital contact with members of the same sex’.

Same-sex sexual behaviour may be under-reported for a range of reasons (Picture: Getty)

However, of the 44 species that were identified as engaging in same-sex sexual behaviour, around 39% have no existing published reports of SSSB to the knowledge of the authors. 

Study lead Karyn Anderson wrote: ‘SSSB occurs more frequently than what is available in the published record and suggests that this may be due to a publishing bias against anecdotal evidence.’ 

The authors suggest that one of the reasons why it may have been so under-reported could have been due to social and political factors. But in a twist, the researchers did not find this to be the case among the experts they surveyed. 

Ms Anderson revealed that one of the reasons it was so under-reported was because it was perceived to be rare, however, when the team looked on a broader scale, they found SSSB was commonly observed by the participants.

Another reason why SSSB might be so under-reported is because of the Darwinian paradox, which questions why animals would practise same-sex sexual activity when it has no obvious evolutionary benefit and could lead to extinction of all members of species that practise it? 

The authors note that the paradox may have persisted throughout recent literature despite the widespread reporting of SSSB across all major animal groups. 

They also suggest that SSSB may not be reported if the behaviour was not a research priority for their lab and most of their observations would be considered ‘anecdotal’, rather than the result of systematic study, perhaps making scientific journals less inclined to publish their findings.


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