Thursday, February 16, 2017

Everybody's Doing It

I bet you didn’t know that same-sex relationships are common across many species in the world. This may come as a shock at first, given the history of same-sex relations in humans in the past.  But believe it or not, homosexuality is typical in the biological world! However, the topic of homosexuality in animals is not nearly as well studied as it is in humans and through research of several different animals, the causes of these behaviors have been shown actually be quite different across species. Some researchers are also concerned about the evolutionary consequences of same-sex behaviors. 

The Laysan Albatross, a gull-like sea bird found predominantly in the Hawaiian Islands, have been known to join in pairs of  females in order to cooperatively rear young.  The reason for this is still unknown.  In Drosophila, the fruit fly, some individuals lack the gene to determine sexes and as a result, males will court other males.  Bottlenose dolphins, a widely researched species, are known to engage in same-sex behaviors as a way to bond with their tight-nit groups. These reasons for same sex-behaviors are vastly different and more research is needed on other species to decipher similarities and differences between them.

Nathan Bailey, a postdoctoral biology researcher at URC, has started to examine the importance of evolutionary consequences of same-sex behaviors.  Because this is a behavior that does not lead to reproduction, it most likely will face evolutionary consequences in some form or another. These behaviors can have an impact on the social structure of populations because it is removing individuals who are available for mating and reproducing. In order to better understand the genetic and neural reasons for homosexuality in animals, researcher have started to turn towards the same approaches taken in human research in the same area.

Posted by Taylor Irwin (2)


  1. Wow, this came to as a shock to me! I had no idea that animals can engage in homosexuality! I guess it is very common among different species. In my biology lab freshman year we had to work with Drosophila and I believe we had to identify between male and female and observe if they reproduced. Its very interesting that some lack the gene that determines it sex which could lead to mating with the same gender! This article definitely introduced lots of new information that I had no idea about before!

    Posted by Angela Driscoll (group A)

    1. Taylor Irwin (Group B)February 17, 2017 at 7:07 AM

      I'm glad you were able to learn something from my post! I thought the part about Drosophila was super interesting too. It makes me wonder if this organism has this many other organisms in the animal kingdom also experience this? I'm sure there is a lack of research in this area. Just goes to show how much we really do not know about the world and how it works!

  2. This is very interesting and although I did have prior experience with the same sex relationships of albatross, I was surprised to find out that so many other groups of organisms do this as well. Obviously its tough to figure out exactly why homosexual relationships are occurring within animals because we can't ask them why they are doing things that they do, but I am wondering, do you know of any of the research that they are trying to do to study this? I am fascinated to find out more about why these animals behave this way.

    Posted by Nicolas Baltayan (group A)

  3. Taylor Irwin (Group B)February 17, 2017 at 7:23 AM

    I know that this particular group is looking at the connections in research between human and animal sexual orientation. They are focusing on genetic heritability and the role that may play in sexual orientation. They want to get to the root of why this phenomenon occurs in animals and what consequences it may have. Previous studies have focused on mechanistic aspects of same-sex behaviors , particularly in model organisms like Drosophila, C. elegans and the zebrafish. These studies were not focused on the cause of same-sex behaviors but it did pave the way to understanding these behaviors from a genetic standpoint. Other areas of research on same-sex behavior has been on the adaptive significance, like group bonding, dominance hierarchies, maladaptation, infection and more. Understanding these behaviors cannot be generalized because it varies so much among species.

  4. I learned in one of the intro to bio courses here at Umass that some animals did mate with the same sex although I didn't know it was quite that common in the natural world for animals as well! I think it's an interesting idea and I definitely agree that this could lead to many evolutionary consequences. Because since same sex relationships cannot reproduce, this would lead to, for example, the males in a population to favor qualities that may look like a females' if this is a species common to female-female relationship. It would affect the species as a whole because eventually, they would all evolve to look very similar to one another because the males are trying to get the females to mate with them. Quite a funny idea, but gotta keep reproducing!

    Posted by Natalie Nou (group c)

  5. I've actually read a few articles about homosexuality in the animal kingdom, and one animal that kept coming up was bats. According to one particular article, 22 species of bats have individuals that partake in same-sex relationships. From an evolutionary standpoint, it's true that these individuals are unable to pass on their genes, so this might have some effects on the long run, but I'm also thinking that these species have been around for so long, and homosexuality has persisted too without any obvious problems associated with it. I wonder if homosexuality in the animal kingdom has positive effects on the species partaking in it, since, for example, the albatrosses use it to help rear young. This might be a reason it continues to persist throughout the animal kingdom.

    Posted by Peter Makhoul

  6. Wow this was a really interesting article to read as I never heard about homosexuality within other species besides humans! I never really thought about this concept because I always thought that other organisms mate in order to pass on their genes-not for pleasure. I think that from an evolutionary standpoint there are definitely benefits to having a bit of homosexual relationships though as seen from your Albatross example. By having another female help with your offspring, you are still passing your genes on but not expending as much energy to take care of your young. I think that this is a really underrated topic of research and something that would be cool to learn about more! Thanks for your post!

    Posted by Kate Masterson

  7. This is a really interesting article! I wonder why that is, especially in species that aren't know to have sex for pleasure. It seems counterproductive, as mating requires effort and takes away from time that could be used to feed or collect resources. I'm interested to see what the results of Bailey's research will be because as he said, this type of behavior is likely to face evolutionary consequences in some form or another.

    Posted by Haley Huang, Group A

  8. I honestly love this post because its soo cool to see that even animals have same sex relationships. I had no idea of this and it just goes to show that even animals find it normal. I'm sure that animals don't discriminate and hate others based on their relationships so as humans neither should we.
    Posted by Ana Carolina Nepomuceno

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  10. This type of evidence could be a valuable tool when it comes to quashing those who use biological essentialism to push a heteronormative agenda. Though, comparing the experiences of homosexual animals with those of humans is pretty flimsy since I'm doubtful that homosexual animals have to face the same social perils that the human gay community does.

    Posted by Owen Mulledy

  11. I'm glad you wanted to make it more well-known that same-sex relationships occur in nature among other animals! In a way, it sort of invalidates people in our society who believe those kinds of relationships are unnatural. It is interesting though because human sexuality has been studied thoroughly and yet we know so little about it. By studying this behavior in animals I feel like it could potentially shed a lot of light on our human behavior as well. I agree with what Owen said about the social perils of same-sex relations in humans vs. animals. It seems as though animals could not care less about what kind of relationships members of its community has. If only that was the case among all members of our society. *sigh*

    Posted by Ross Cavalieri