Penguin Homosexuality

on October 23, 2010

BBC News: “Penguins Flirt with HomosexualityAfter previous reports of homosexual penguins, the birds seem to be an icon of aberrant sexual practice. But headlines aside, new research shows there’s relatively little to the idea of penguin homosexuality.

The study of “homosexuality” in king penguins is the first of its kind, revealing that nearly thirty percent of penguin “displays”—a courtship behavior—occur in homosexual contexts. That proportion is important because some scientists have previously suggested that penguin homosexual displays are simply due to difficulty the penguins may have in telling their male and female peers apart. But the proportion of homosexual displays is lower than what would be expected were all encounters by chance, suggesting that something else is at play.

High levels of testosterone or disproportionately many males in the population could be the cause.

Specifically, the researchers think high levels of testosterone or disproportionately many males in the population could be the cause; the current proportion of males to females in the penguin colony is 1.65. Males returning to the colony from the sea are also thought to carry excess testosterone.

Despite the homosexual displays, only two pairs of penguins bonded (meaning that they learned one another’s calls) homosexually, out of a total of seventy-five pairs; but all four “homosexuals” were later observed in heterosexual relationships.

The subject of homosexuality in nature has become a controversial topic because some groups have argued (implicitly or explicitly) that homosexuality in nature shows that homosexuality in humans is morally acceptable (see News to Note, May 30, 2009). This ignores both the fact that humans are held to different moral standards than animals (a consequence of our unique creation in the image of God) as well as the fact that many morally reprehensible acts occur in nature (e.g., murder) that no one endorses as okay for humans.

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