Category Archives: animal sexuality

Bighorn Rams: Macho Homos, Wimpish Heteros

To look at them, bighorn rams are the very image of hypermasculinity. They live on the rugged mountain slopes of Montana and Canada, in an environment that demands strengh, athleticism and stamina. Their appearance is impressive, with large thick horns curling back behind the ear, and they’re big, weighing up to 300 pounds. They exude so much machismo, that their image has been appropriated by numerous as a symbol for many  male athletic teams. And they like their sex – with other males. Those few who don’t, are described by researchers as “effeminate” .
Lovers, maybe?

For bighorn sheep (and also for thinhorns), “natural” sex is same-sex, including elaborate courtship rituals, genital licking, and anal penetration. (Many rams also find a way to “masturbate” – not with their hooves, but by rubbing on the ground.)  In this “homosexual society”, almost all rams routinely participate year-round in sexual activity with each other, but heterosexual intercourse is limiting to the rutting season. Even then, not all rams, especially the younger ones, get to participate.

For Bighorn and Thinhorn Sheep, heterosexuality is definitely not “normal”.

From “Evolution’s Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People ” (Joan Roughgarden):

“The females live separately from the males. The sexes associate only during the breeding season, from mid fall to early winter. A female is receptive for about three days, and will not allow herself outside of these three days.”

This emphatically does not mean that the males endure sexual abstinence for the rest of the year.

The males have been described as `homosexual societies`. Almost all males participate in homosexual courting and copulation. Male-male courtship begins with a stylized approach, followed by genital licking and nuzzling, and often leads to anal intercourse in which one male, usually the larger, mounts the other. The mounted male arches his back, which is identical to how a female arches her back during heterosexual intercourse. The mounting male ahs an erect penis, makes anal penetration, and performs pelvic thrusts leading to ejaculation.
The few males who do not participate in male sex are described as “effeminate”,. These males are identical tin appearance to other males but behave quite differently. They differ from “normal males” by living with the ewes rather than joining the all-male groups. These males do not dominate females, are less aggressive overall, and adopt a crouching, female urination posture. These males refuse mouning by other males. These nonhomosexual males are considerd “aberrant”, with speculation that that some hormone deficiency must underlie their behaviour. Even though in physical appearance, including body size and horn development, these males are indistinguishable from other males, scientists urge further study of their endocrinological profile.
This case turns the meanings of normal and aberrant upside down. The “normal” macho bighorn has full-fledged anal sex with other males. The “aberrant” male is the one who is straight – the lack of interest in homosexuality is considered pathological. Now, why would being straight be a pathology, requiring a hormonal checkup? According to the researchers, what’s aberrant is that a macho-looking bighorn ram acts feminine! He pees like a female – even worse than being gay.
(Same sex mountings have also been described in several other species of sheep and goats in North America and Europe, and in farm animals).

Related Posts on Animal Sexuality:

Also The effeminate sheep and other problems with natural selection (at “Seed Magazine”)


Books:

Bagemihl, Bruce: Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity (Stonewall Inn Editions)

Roughgarden, Joan: Evolution’s Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People Sommer,

Volker and Vasey, Paul: Homosexual Behaviour in Animals: An Evolutionary Perspective

Lesbian Lizards

This is another for your wildlife rainbow collection: lesbian lizards. For a fun take on this from a lesbian site, have a look at “Leapin’ Lesbian Lizards“, at Wish You Were Queer, Girls

In the deepest darkest depths of Vietnam, two new herpetological (reptile and amphibian) species have been discovered. These creatures – dubbed ‘lesbian lizards’ and ‘psychedelic geckos’ – were found by expert Lee Grismer and his son, Jesse on a 2 week expedition to Southeast Asia. The lesbian lizards are asexual and arouse each other by mock mating. This in turn causes them to ovulate and lay eggs – and produce clones of themselves.

Or, for a more orthodox, formal news report, try Seattle Times – but the link, which was working fine this morning, is down right now. Perhaps it will be  up again later.
These are by no means the only lesbian  lizards, as this report from Time also shows:

So far biologists have identified 27 kinds of parthenogenetic lizards—all-female species that lay eggs to produce exact genetic copies of the mother. On field trips in Arizona and Colorado, a team of researchers headed by Psychobiologist David Crews found that four of these species engage in mock male-female sex. An active female mounts a passive one, curves the tail under the other’s body, strokes the partner’s back and neck, joins genital regions, and rides on top for one to five minutes. The active female lizard always has small undeveloped eggs, while the passive female has large pre-ovulatory eggs. But there are cyclic variations in behavior and egg size in these reptiles, and roles reverse; the passive female of one encounter can be the active partner of the next. Says Crews: “We are now trying to determine whether this malelike behavior facilitates reproductive function.” Translation: the psychobiologist does not yet know why the females mock the male-female behavior of related two-sex species. The eggs hatch with or without the lesbian courtship.

Now, here’s the thing: Lee Grismer’s finds are recent, but the report in Time is from 1980 – thirty years ago! So how come people still don’t get it that same sex interactions are not in any way “unnatural”?
File it alongside those Bisexual Snails, and those peace -loving bonobos.
Also see additional QTC posts:

The Wildlife Rainbow Queer Bonobos: Sex As Conflict Resolution Bisexual Snails Exclusive Heterosexuality Unnatural? Natural Law and Laysan’s Albatross

Exclusive Heterosexuality Unnatural?

“I don’t know of any species that is exclusively heterosexual”
– Zurich Zoo tour guide, Myriam Schärz.
The argument that same -sex relationships are supposedly “unnatural” is so fundamental to the homophobes’ case, that it needs to be countered at every opportunity. At Bilerico Project, Jesses Monteagudo has a good rundown of just how widespread same sex behaviour is in the animal kingdom. Here are some extracts:

 

In 1999 the standard work on the topic, Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity (Stonewall Inn Editions) by Bruce Bagemihl, was published.

“On every continent, animals of the same sex seek each other out and have probably been doing it for millions of years,” Bagemihl wrote. …….According to Bagemihl, “Homosexual behavior occurs in more than 450 different kinds of animals worldwide, and is found in every major geographic region and every major animal group.”
But we don’t need Bagemihl for anecdotal evidence. Hardly a week goes by that we don’t hear stories about same-sex oriented otters or rabbits. You don’t have to go to the Zurich Zoo to learn about “the indiscriminate and almost insatiable sexuality of bonobo apes” or “how gay male dolphins use their lovers’ blowholes for sexual gratification.” Just last year a review paper by Nathan Bailey and Marlene Zuk of the Department of Biology at the University of California in Riverside concluded that “same-sex behavior is a nearly universal phenomenon in the animal kingdom, common across species, from worms to frogs to birds.”
“Female western gulls sometimes pair off for several years and mount each other while incubating eggs,” Steve Hogan and Lee Hudson wrote in Completely Queer: The Gay and Lesbian Encyclopedia. “Similar behaviors have been documented among female sage grouse, male mallard ducks, and female and male greylag geese and turkeys.” According to the authors of Out in All Directions: The Almanac of Gay and Lesbian America, same-sex behavior has been documented in all kinds of animal species, including antelope, bugs, butterflies, cats, cattle, cockroaches, crickets, dogs, donkeys, elephants, flies, geckos, guinea pigs, hamsters, horses, hyenas, lions, martens, mice, moths, octopuses, orcas, porcupines, raccoons, rats and wasps.

Gay animal behavior seems to alarm religious conservatives almost as much as the human variety, and they have tried their best to deny it. Those who do admit that same-sex behavior exists in the animal kingdom try to explain it away as being playful antics or dominance behavior to assert hierarchy.

“Some conservatives and religious groups now admit that homosexuality is common in the animal kingdom, but many of them have also put forward theories to explain the phenomenon,” said Myriam Schärz of the Zurich Zoo. “Some argue that homosexuality only occurs when animal populations become too large, or that animals only turn to homosexuality when they have no other alternative, but there is no evidence to back up the population theory, and there is plenty of proof against the harem argument. Dominant silver-back gorillas, for instance, have frequently been seen engaging in homosexual activity and deliberately shunning available females.”
“Humans seem to be the only species where homosexuals are not readily accepted in society,” Schärz said
I have just one problem with Ms Schärz’s conclusion: it is not true that among humans as a species homosexuals are not accepted. The evidence from history and anthropology is that across all periods, and in all major regions of the world, many humans societies (possibly most) have been tolerant or even encouraging of same sex relationships. (In some societies, homosexual activity has even been compulsory for boys or young men.) Compulsory, exclusive heterosexuality for humans, as demanded by the religious right, may be just as unnatural for humans as it is for animals.

Books:

Related articles
Enhanced by Zemanta