Penguins are not gay, they are just lonely
Published 21/10/2010 | 10:26
Penguins are not gay, despite new evidence of homosexual behaviour in the wild, they are just "same sex flirting" until they find a mate, according to a new study.
The homosexual behaviour of male king penguins has already been noted in zoos.
Now in a new study, scientists have found the evidence of male pairs in the wild. The research found that more than a quarter of the colony in Antarctica were in same sex partners, mostly two males.
In the past, it was claimed that penguins could not discern between the sexes because they looked alike. Male pairs in zoos in the US and Germany have hatched and reared ‘adopted’ chicks.
However the new study by the Centre for Functional and Evolutionary Ecology in Montpellier, France found that the penguins are only pairing up with other males because they are “lonely”.
There are not enough females in the colony and the males have high levels of testosterone, which drives them to engage in mating displays - even if it is with other males.
During the mating season king penguins “flirt” with potential partners by closing their eyes, stretching their heads skyward and moving them in a half-circle to "take peeks" at one another.
The male pairs engaged in the displays for short periods of time but did not bond in the same way as a heterosexual pair would, by learning each other’s calls or caring for eggs.
Professor F Stephen Dobson, one of the authors of the study published in the journal Ethology, said the number of same sex pairs was actually lower than expected. When the colony was studied over time he found all the ‘gay’ penguins chose a heterosexual partner. A female pair also ‘split up’ to raise an egg with male partner.
"I found that the rate of homosexually displaying pairs was significantly lower than one would expect by chance," he said.