Scientists Accused of Ignoring Gay Animals

Kingdom Come

Scientists have long observed animals engaging in same-sex behavior — but for complex reasons, those observations have rarely made their way into academic literature.

In a new paper in the journal PLOS One, anthropology researchers at the University of Toronto spoke to 65 experts about the frequency of observed homosexual animal behavior in the animal kingdom and their experiences documenting it.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there was a gigantic gulf: 77 percent had observed same-sex animal behavior, but only 48 percent collected data on it and just 19 percent ended up publishing their findings.

Though none of the survey respondents themselves reported any "discomfort or sociopolitical concerns" of their own, many said that journals were biased against publishing anecdotal evidence of these same-sex animal couplings and preferred instead to rely on systematic findings. That trend is compounded by the fact that many countries have anti-gay laws on the books.

"Researchers working in countries where homosexuality is criminalized may be less likely to, or unable to, publish papers on this topic if they wish to maintain good working relationships in that region," the paper reads. "The political or social values of the institutions where researchers work may pose a barrier to their ability to publish on this topic."

It's Natural

The effect of this apparent bias is clear: despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, same-sex animal behavior has been considered "unnatural," or rare with key exceptions like penguins and Japanese macaques, which are both known for their homosexuality.

According to Karyn Anderson, a Toronto anthropology grad student and the paper's first author, this erroneous belief seems to extend to humans, too.

"I think that record should be corrected," Anderson told The Guardian. "One thing I think we can say for certain is that same-sex sexual behavior is widespread and natural in the animal kingdom."

While the PLOS One paper looks at a relatively narrow cohort as exemplary of this seeming trend, other experts also suggest the lack of academic acknowledgment of near-universal animal homosexuality is bizarre.

"Around 1,500 species have been observed showing homosexual [behaviors], but this is certainly an underestimate because it’s seen in almost every branch of the evolutionary tree — spiders, squids, monkeys," recounted Josh Davis, who works at London's Natural History Museum and wrote a book titled "A Little Gay Natural History."

"There’s a growing suggestion it’s normal and natural to almost every species," Davis, who was not involved in the research, told The Guardian. "It’s probably more rare to be a purely heterosexual species."

Be that as it may, there remain clear barriers to getting this well-observed reality into the mainstream — but hopefully, that tide will soon turn.

More on animal behavior: Orcas Strike Again, Sinking Yacht as Oil Tanker Called for Rescue