Biological Exuberance


They're Using Sheep to Study Gay Behaviour

In itself, homosexuality is as limiting as heterosexuality:
the ideal should be to be capable of loving a woman or a man; either,
a human being,
without feeling fear, restraint, or obligation.

- Simone de Beauvoir

Homosexuality is god's way of insuring that the truly gifted aren't burdened with children.

- Sam Austin

I don't think homosexuality is a choice.
Society forces you to think it's a choice, but in fact, it's in one's nature.
The choice is whether one expresses one's nature truthfully or spends the rest of one's life lying about it.

- Marlo Thomas

by Jack Anderson

When it comes to studying sexual orientation, the politically correct way for the Bush administration to do it is with sheep - not humans.  So it is, we have learned, that the pioneering work on the potential origin of homosexual or heterosexual behaviour is being done by the Department of Agriculture, which has for more than 4 years been identifying, separating, and studying a group of gay sheep.

n fact, the research they've been doing with the rams at a backwater sheep station in Dubois, Idaho, is the kind of work one normally expects out of America's premier research centre, the National Institutes of Health.  Except that the NIH can't touch these kinds of studies because some powerful Republican officials think it's a threat to "Family Values".

Our first report on the Agriculture Department's gay sheep studies sparked something of a stir in the segment of the American scientific community that is concerned with sexual behaviour.  That's because they hadn't heard of it before and were anxious to compare notes with the scientists doing the work.  The Agriculture Department had no lofty goal of settling the age-old question of whether homosexuality is born or bred, is natural or nurtured - even if their work unintentionally takes a stride in that direction.

Quite simply, sheepherders had been complaining that they were losing money buying some $350 to $4000 rams who weren't interested in mating.  The point was to find the organic or genetic origin of what they termed for the sheep trade, the "Dud Stud Phenomenon."  Interestingly, in this study the percentage of rams the Agriculture Department researchers determined were gay - some 8.5% - is close to some estimates in human society.

Source: 18 June 1992

Oh, Bugger

The following, written by Edward A Lisowski, is from "The Proceedings of the Washington Entomological Society" and is a summary of a talk at their 4 October 1990 meeting.  The talk concerned buggery in insects...

...Vic's talk, entitled "Homosexuality and Insect Sexuality: Origin and Raison d'Etre," reflects his lifelong passion for ferreting out papers on sexual behaviour - especially aberrant behaviour - ostensibly to comprehend the the mechanisms of sex determination.  His thesis is that chemicals, sounds, or even particular frequencies of sound can determine sex...  It somehow follows that homosexuality is merely a matter of timing in the maturing egg which, according to Vic, initially develops both sexes.  Evidence for this supposedly may be found in a veritable Mondo Cane of entomovoyeurisms: aging female fruit flies become lesbians and behave like amazons; male bed bugs, notorious copulators even as heterosexuals, occasionally are seen sinking their aedeagi into one another; moths of many species, reared in mixed colonies, exhibit rampant homosexuality; various male beetles frequently attempt to mate with each other, especially if rejected by a female, and some, apparently crazed by the presence of female pheromones, will mount their dead brethren, thereby qualifying as necrophiliacs..."

Vic is Dr Vic Adler, Research Entomologist (retired), US Department of Agriculture.  Some of this work was probably supported by your tax dollars.

Source: 18 June 1992

Birds and Bees May Be Gay

Oslo: The birds and the bees may be gay, according to the world's first museum exhibition about homosexuality among animals.  With documentation of gay or lesbian behaviour among giraffes, penguins, parrots, beetles, whales and dozens of other creatures, the Oslo Natural History Museum concludes human homosexuality cannot be viewed as "unnatural".  "We may have opinions on a lot of things, but one thing is clear - homosexuality is found throughout the animal kingdom, it is not against nature," an exhibit statement said.

Geir Soeli, the project leader of the exhibition entitled "Against Nature", told Reuters: "Homosexuality has been observed for more than 1,500 animal species, and is well documented for 500 of them."  The museum said the exhibition, opening on Thursday despite condemnation from some Christians, was the first in the world on the subject.  Soeli said a Dutch zoo had once organised tours to view homosexual couples among the animals.  "The sexual urge is strong in all animals.  It's a part of life, it's fun to have sex," Soeli said of the reasons for homosexuality or bisexuality among animals.

One exhibit shows two stuffed female swans on a nest - birds sometimes raise young in homosexual couples, either after a female has forsaken a male mate or donated an egg to a pair of males.  One photograph shows two giant erect penises flailing above the water as two male right whales rub together.  Another shows a male giraffe mounting another for sex, another describes homosexuality among beetles.

One radical Christian said organisers of the exhibition - partly funded by the Norwegian government - should "burn in hell", Soeli said.  Laws describing homosexuality as a "crime against nature" are still on the statutes in some countries.

Greek philosopher Aristotle noted apparent homosexual behaviour among hyenas 2300 years ago but evidence of animal homosexuality has often been ignored by researchers, perhaps because of distaste, lack of interest or fear or ridicule.

Bonobos, a type of chimpanzee, are among extremes in having sex with either males or females, apparently as part of social bonding.  "Bonobos are bisexuals, all of them," Soeli said.  Still, it is unclear why homosexuality survives since it seems a genetic dead-end.  Among theories, males can sometimes win greater acceptance in a pack by having homosexual contact.  That in turn can help their chances of later mating with females, he said.  And a study of homosexual men in Italy suggested that their mothers and sisters had more offspring.  "The same genes that give homosexuality in men could give higher fertility among women," he said.

Source: 13 October 2006

Love That Dare Not Squeak Its Name

by Dinitia Smith

Roy and Silo, two chinstrap penguins at the Central Park Zoo in Manhattan, are completely devoted to each other.  For nearly 6 years now, they have been inseparable.  They exhibit what in penguin parlance is called "ecstatic behaviour": that is, they entwine their necks, they vocalise to each other, they have sex.  Silo and Roy are, to anthropomorphise a bit, gay penguins.  When offered female companionship, they have adamantly refused it.  And the females aren't interested in them, either.  At one time, the two seemed so desperate to incubate an egg together that they put a rock in their nest and sat on it, keeping it warm in the folds of their abdomens, said their chief keeper, Rob Gramzay.  Finally, he gave them a fertile egg that needed care to hatch.  Things went perfectly.  Roy and Silo sat on it for the typical 34 days until a chick, Tango, was born.  For the next 2½ months they raised Tango, keeping her warm and feeding her food from their beaks until she could go out into the world on her own.  Mr Gramzay is full of praise for them.  "They did a great job," he said, standing inside the glassed-in penguin exhibit where Roy and Silo had just finished lunch.  (Penguins usually like a swim after they eat, and Silo was in the water.  Roy had finished his dip and was up on the beach.)

Roy and Silo are hardly unusual.  Milou and Squawk, two young males, are also beginning to exhibit courtship behaviour, hanging out with each other, billing and bowing.  Before them, the Central Park Zoo had Georgey and Mickey, two female Gentoo penguins who tried to incubate eggs together.  And Wendell and Cass, a devoted male African penguin pair, live at the New York Aquarium in Coney Island.  Indeed, scientists have found homosexual behaviour throughout the animal world.

This growing body of science has been increasingly drawn into charged debates about homosexuality in American society, on subjects from gay marriage to sodomy laws, despite reluctance from experts in the field to extrapolate from animals to humans.  Gay groups argue that if homosexual behaviour occurs in animals, it is ", and therefore the rights of homosexuals should be protected.  On the other hand, some conservative religious groups have condemned the same practices in the past, calling them "animalistic."  But if homosexuality occurs among animals, does that necessarily mean that it is natural for humans, too?  And that raises a familiar question: if homosexuality is not a choice, but a result of natural forces that cannot be controlled, can it be immoral?

The open discussion of homosexual behaviour in animals is relatively new.  "There has been a certain cultural shyness about admitting it," said Frans de Waal, whose 1997 book, Bonobo: The Forgotten Ape (University of California Press), unleashed a torrent of discussion about animal sexuality.  Bonobos, apes closely related to humans, are wildly energetic sexually.  Studies show that whether observed in the wild or in captivity, nearly all are bisexual, and nearly half their sexual interactions are with the same sex.  Female bonobos have been observed to engage in homosexual activity almost hourly.  Before his own book, "American scientists who investigated bonobos never discussed sex at all," said Mr de Waal, director of the Living Links Centre of the Yerkes Primate Centre at Emory University in Atlanta.  "Or they sometimes would show two females having sex together, and would say, `The females are very affectionate.'"

Then in 1999, Bruce Bagemihl published Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity (St Martin's Press), one of the first books of its kind to provide an overview of scholarly studies of same-sex behaviour in animals.  Mr Bagemihl said homosexual behaviour had been documented in some 450 species.  (Homosexuality, he says, refers to any of these behaviours between members of the same sex: long-term bonding, sexual contact, courtship displays or the rearing of young.)  Last summer the book was cited by the American Psychiatric Association and other groups in a "friend of the court" brief submitted to the Supreme Court in Lawrence versus Texas, a case challenging a Texas anti-sodomy law.  The court struck down the law.  Sexual Exuberance was also cited in 2000 by gay rights groups opposed to Ballot Measure 9, a proposed Oregon statute prohibiting teaching about homosexuality or bisexuality in public schools.  The measure lost.

In his book Mr Bagemihl describes homosexual activity in a broad spectrum of animals.  He asserts that while same-sex behaviour is sometimes found in captivity, it is actually seen more frequently in studies of animals in the wild.  Among birds, for instance, studies show that 10 - 15% of female western gulls in some populations in the wild are homosexual.  Females perform courtship rituals, like tossing their heads at each other or offering small gifts of food to each other, and they establish nests together.  Occasionally they mate with males and produce fertile eggs but then return to their original same-sex partners.  Their bonds, too, may persist for years.

Among mammals, male and female bottlenose dolphins frequently engage in homosexual activity, both in captivity and in the wild.  Homosexuality is particularly common among young male dolphin calves.  One male may protect another that is resting or healing from wounds inflicted by a predator.  When one partner dies, the other may search for a new male mate.  Researchers have noted that in some cases same-sex behaviour is more common for dolphins in captivity.

Male and female rhesus macaques, a type of monkey, also exhibit homosexuality in captivity and in the wild.  Males are affectionate to each other, touching, holding and embracing.  Females smack their lips at each other and play games like hide-and-seek, peek-a-boo and follow the leader.  And both sexes mount members of their own sex.

Paul L Vasey, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Lethbridge in Canada, who studies homosexual behaviour in Japanese macaques, is editing a new book on homosexual behaviour in animals, to be published by Cambridge University Press.  This kind of behaviour among animals has been observed by scientists as far back as the 1700s, but Mr Vasey said one reason there had been few books on the topic was that "people don't want to do the research because they don't want to have suspicions raised about their sexuality."  Some scientists say homosexual behaviour in animals is not necessarily about sex.

Marlene Zuk, a professor of biology at the University of California at Riverside and author of Sexual Selections: What We Can and Can't Learn About Sex From Animals (University of California Press, 2002), notes that scientists have speculated that homosexuality may have an evolutionary purpose, ensuring the survival of the species.  By not producing their own offspring, homosexuals may help support or nurture their relatives' young.  "That is a contribution to the gene pool," she said.

For Janet Mann, a professor of biology and psychology at Georgetown University, who has studied same-sex behaviour in dolphin calves, their homosexuality "is about bond formation," she said, "not about being sexual for life."  She said that studies showed that adult male dolphins formed long-term alliances, sometimes in large groups.  As adults, they cooperate to entice a single female and keep other males from her.  Sometimes they share the female, or they may cooperate to help one male.  "Male-male cooperation is extremely important," Ms Mann said.  The homosexual behaviour of the young calves "could be practicing" for that later, crucial adult period, she added.

But, scientists say, just because homosexuality is observed in animals doesn't mean that it is only genetically based.  "Homosexuality is extraordinarily complex and variable," Mr Bagemihl said.  "We look at animals as pure biology and pure genetics, and they are ot."  He noted that "the occurrence of same-sex behaviour in animals provides support for the nurture side as well."  He cited as an example the ruff, a type of Arctic sandpiper.  There are four different classes of male ruffs, each differing from the others genetically.  The two that differ most from each other are most similar in their homosexual behaviours.

Ms Zuk said, "You have inclinations that are more or less supported by our genes and in some environmental circumstances get expressed."  She used the analogy of right- or left-handedness, thought to be genetically based.  "But you can teach naturally left-handed children to use their right hand," she pointed out.

Still, scientists warn about drawing conclusions about humans.  "For some people, what animals do is a yardstick of what is and isn't "," Mr Vasey said.  "They make a leap from saying if it's ", it's morally and ethically desirable."  But he added: "Infanticide is widespread in the animal kingdom.  To jump from that to say it is desirable makes no sense.  We shouldn't be using animals to craft moral and social policies for the kinds of human societies we want to live in.  Animals don't take care of the elderly.  I don't particularly think that should be a platform for closing down nursing homes."  Mr Bagemihl is also wary of extrapolating.  "In Nazi Germany, one very common interpretation of homosexuality was that it was animalistic behaviour, subhuman," he said.

What the animal studies do show, Ms Zuk observed, is that "sexuality is a lot broader term than people want to think.  You have this idea that the animal kingdom is strict, old-fashioned Roman Catholic," she said, "that they have sex just to procreate."  In bonobos, she noted, "you see expressions of sex outside the period when females are fertile.  Suddenly you are beginning to see that sex is not necessarily about reproduction.  Sexual expression means more than making babies.  Why are we surprised?  People are animals."

Source: Saturday 7 February 2004

Maybe Not Gay Behaviour - Just Odd

A Bat Going for a Walk

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