Going Wild

The animal kingdom is gayer than scientists are saying, survey finds

From humpback whales to manatees, there’s been no shortage of queer representation in the animal kingdom lately. But according to a new survey, there’s still more queerness to the natural world than meets the eye — because scientists haven’t been accurately reporting their findings.

The study, published in PLOS One, surveyed 65 animal researchers on their experience seeing same-sex behavior among animals in the wild. Those researchers were studying 52 different species across various animal orders, from primates to rodents to elephants. Of the survey respondents, more than three quarters (76.7%) reported observing same-sex activity in their species, but less than half actually collected that data (48.2%) and even fewer included same-sex behavior in their publications (18.5%).

Why this discrepancy between observations and reporting? It’s not malicious or intentionally homophobic, according to the study. In the abstract, the study’s authors wrote that researchers usually didn’t report their findings because “the behaviors were rare, or because it was not a research priority of their lab.” They also ntoed that it may point to “a publishing bias against anecdotal evidence.” 

One of the study’s authors, Karyn Anderson, elaborated on that idea in an interview with the Guardian.

“This appears to be due to a perception of researchers that same-sex sexual behavior is very rare,” Anderson said. “We found, however, that it was commonly observed by our survey participants.”

In other words, researchers are creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. They don’t expect to see same-sex activity in their research, so when they find it, they don’t report it.

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

Other experts also chimed in on the study’s results, including Josh Davis, a science writer for the Natural History Museum in London and the author of A Little Queer Natural History.

“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,” Davis told the Guardian.

“There’s a growing suggestion it’s normal and natural to almost every species,” Davis continued. “It’s probably more rare to be a purely heterosexual species.”

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