The final post inspired by Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity by Bruce Bagemihl. Penguins and their gayness hardly need an introduction given the ubiquity of “on the lighter side” news reports about male Penguin couples in zoos. Wild Humboldt Penguins live in groups of 10-60 individuals, but King Penguin communities can consist of up to 300,000 pairs. Lifelong homosexual pair bonds develop between male Humboldts. They usually live together in a nest they’ve built. They also both take part in the magnificently named “ecstatic display” in which the male stretches out his head and neck, flapping his flippers and emitting a loud braying sound.
Males in heterosexual pairs also sometimes court and copulate with other heterosexually paired males and with females other than their own mate. In zoo populations of Humboldts, at least 5% of all pairs are exclusively homosexual. Other males are bisexual, pairing with males after losing a female partner.
Homosexual relationships between King Penguins are less durable, often ending in divorce after about a year. Like Humboldts, some King Penguins never show any interest in heterosexual relationships.
There are other variations on the monogamous pair and the nuclear family. About a quarter of heterosexual pairings end in divorce, often with the female leaving the male. About 6% of chicks are raised by single parents. Like the Hooded Warblers mentioned last time, Penguins occasionally (about 5% of the time) form trios. Non breeding females may join a breeding pair as a kind of nanny. Kidnap of eggs or chicks by chickless penguins occurs sometimes. It’s like a Penguin soap opera.
Humboldt Penguin (Spheniscus humboldti)
King Penguin (Aptenodytes patagonicus)
Homosexuality: Female & Male Behaviours: Courtship, Affectionate, Sexual, Pair-bonding, Parenting Ranking: Moderate Observed: Wild, Captivity
(See It’s Gay Animal Fortnight for an explanation of this box.)
Next time… something not about gay animals!
Original Penguin image from Wikipedia Commons.