Even what the same-sex animals are doing varies tremendously from species to species. When I visited Zuk at her lab at the University of California at Riverside last December, an online video clip of an octopus carrying a coconut shell around the seafloor, and periodically hiding under it, was starting to go viral. For a few days, people everywhere were flipping out about how intelligent and wily this octopus was.
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Not Zuk, though. Nor is it doing something so uncommon in the animal world.
Zuk explained that caddis-fly larvae collect rocks and loom them together into intricate shelters. Something similar may be happening with what we perceive to be homosexual sex in an array of animal species: Within the logic of each species, or group of species, many of these behaviors appear to have their own causes and consequences — their own evolutionary meanings, so to speak.
For the last 15 years, for example, Paul Vasey has been studying Japanese macaques, a species of two-and-a-half-foot-tall, pink-faced monkey. He has looked almost exclusively at why female macaques mount one another during the mating season.
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Vasey now says he is on to the answer: Female macaques regularly mount males too, Vasey explained, probably to focus their attention and reinforce their bond as mates. The females are physically capable of mounting any gender of macaque. Laysan albatrosses are not nearly as graceful on land as they are in the air; even they seem surprised by the size of their feet. Later that week, at a nearby resort, I would recognize their gait while watching an out-of-shape snorkeler toddle back to his beach towel in rented flippers.
This is the luxury of studying Laysan albatrosses.
Having evolved with no natural predators, the birds have no fight-or-flight instinct — you can basically go right up to one and grab it. In fact, Young did just this a short while later, slinking up to a male on all fours, sweeping it in by its flank and, in one expert motion, straightjacketing the wings under one arm and clamping the beak shut in her other hand. She took some pliers from her backpack to twist off the anklet and, as I stood bear-hugging the albatross, she added: Young and Marlene Zuk are now applying for a year National Science Foundation grant to continue studying the female albatross pairs.
One of the first questions they want to answer is how these birds are winding up with fertilized eggs. She was staking out Kaena Point on a daily basis, trying to watch these illicit copulations unfold for herself. Young and I ambled around for half an hour, maybe more. They sat under a spindly, native Hawaiian naio bush. They made baa sounds at each other. After a while, Young and I got up. Another hour passed. Usually, Young brings along a camping chair. Occasionally, albatrosses danced in groups of two or three, raising their necks, groaning like vibrating cellphones, clacking their beaks or stomping.
Homosexual activity is often observed in animal populations with a shortage of one sex — in the wild but more frequently at zoos. Quickly mating with an otherwise-committed male, then pairing with another single female to incubate the egg, is a way to raise those odds. Still, pairing off with another female creates its own problems: So Young was also trying to figure out how a female-female pair decides which of its two eggs to incubate and which to chuck out of the nest — if the birds are deciding at all, and not just knocking one egg out accidentally.
And these were only preambles to more questions. Ultimately, either the rules of albatrossdom were breaking down and the lesbian couples were booting up some alternate suite of behaviors, governed by its own set of rules, or else science had never thoroughly understood the rules of albatrossdom to begin with. Many people who contacted Young after the publication of her first albatross paper assumed she was a lesbian. She is not. Young found the assumption offensive — not because she was being mistaken for gay, but because she was being mistaken for a bad scientist; these people seemed to presume that her research was compromised by a personal agenda.
Still, some of the biologists doing the most incisive work on animal homosexuality are in fact gay. View all New York Times newsletters. Only a few months before I visited Kaena Point, two penguins at the San Francisco Zoo became the latest in a tradition of captive same-sex penguin couples making global headlines.
After six years together — in which the two birds even fostered a son, named Chuck Norris — the penguins split up when one of the males ran off with a female named Linda. On the other hand, an Australian drag queen known as Dr. The book has also been cited in a brief filed for the Supreme Court case that overturned a Texas state ban on sodomy and, similarly, in a legislative debate on the floor of the British Parliament. James Esseks, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project at the American Civil Liberties Union , told me he has never incorporated facts about animal behavior into a legal argument about the rights of human beings.
He remembers thinking: This is normal. This is part of the normal spectrum of humanity — or life. But later in our conversation, Esseks paused and stayed silent for a while. He was thinking like a lawyer again now, and found a hole in that line of reasoning.
How could we, as humans, ever know? One e-mail message compared him with Dr. Still, many people who contacted Featherstone were actually grateful — for the same, baseless prospect. There were poignant phone calls from parents, concerned about their gay children. It was hard not to be moved, and he would try to explain the implications of his research, or lack thereof, politely. Let your son be your son. Not long ago, more than two years after the publication of the fruit-fly paper, a woman wrote to Featherstone about her college-aged daughter.
Homosexual Activity Among Animals Stirs Debate
She was now contemplating suicide. The mother begged Featherstone to rethink his unwillingness to turn his fruit-fly research into a treatment. Since , in addition to his investigation of female-female macaque sex, Vasey has also been studying a particular group of men in Samoa. In a paper published earlier this year, Vasey and one of his graduate students at the University of Lethbridge, Doug P. Pick a way to spend a Friday night At a rock concert. Culture Lifestyle PlanetRomeo.
Live Science. Retrieved 19 June Goudarzi, Sara 16 November Retrieved on 12 September Harrold, Max February 16, The Advocate Retrieved March 10, In his news book, Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity At pages and with photos and documentation of homosexual behaviour in more than species of mammals, birds, repties, and insects, Biological Exuberance brings the dusty facts to light as Bagemihl deconstructs the all-heterosexual Noah's Ark we've been sold. Holekamp, Kay E.
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Spotted Hyena - Introduction and Overview. Michigan State University , Department of Zoology]. Kick, Russ You Are Being Lied to: Retrieved on 18 November Archived from the original on Liggett, Dave; Columbus Zoo and Aquarium staff. Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.
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