Seahorses, together with pipefishes and the leafy, ruby and weedy seadragons, constitute the Syngnathidae family. They are small fishes with a long body, which present a unique feature: females lay the eggs inside a pectoral cavity of male, where are fecundated, and then they are released. Watch this video of a male seahorse realising the small seahorses:
These animals live in coastal waters of tropical and subtropical seas, what include Mediterranean sea, mainly in algae and Posidonia. In the Mediterranean, we can find three genus of Syngnathidae: Hippocampus, Syngnathus y Nerophis; but here we will focus on the first one, which corresponds to seahorses.
Seahorses, which use the tail like a tiller and to hold on to objects, maintain their vertical position thanks to an organ that allow their buoyancy called swim bladder (present in all fishes) and the tail. All seahorse species are included in the genus Hippocampus, with about 50 species. They feed on small invertebrates, mainly crustaceans present in the plankton. When the prey is close, its mouth acts as a hoover.
In the Mediterranean, we find two species of seahorse: the short snouted seahorse (Hippocampus hippocampus) and the seahorse (Hippocampus guttulatus).
SHORT SNOUTED SEAHORSE (Hippocampus hippocampus)
The short snouted seahorse, with a brown grey colouration, present a short snout and they lack appendixes in the head and back. They can measure 15 cm. They live in sandy and detritus sea-floors till 10 m deep. When a female wants to introduce the egg mass inside the male, they do not hold on each other. Males release the little seahorses after 4 weeks. Their conservation status is unknown.
SEAHORSE (Hippocampus guttulatus)
This seahorse, different from the other one, presents long snout and abundant appendixes in the head and trunk. They can also measure 15 cm long. They usually live in seagrasses, but is quite difficult to see them. In this case, the male and the female hold on to each other when she wants to introduce the egg mass in the male. Its conservation status is also unknown.
Ballesteros y Llobet (2015). Fauna i Flora de la mar Mediterrània. Ed. Brau
Fortunately for LGTB collective, greater and greater countries and societies understood that homosexuality is something natural and that it is not an illness. Anyway, despite this is true, it is also true that it is necessary to work hard to achieve equality on lesbian, gay, transexual and bisexual rights and to eradicate the false belief that homosexuality is unnatural. In the next weeks, in cities all over the world like Barcelona and Madrid will take place LGTB Pride parties. For this reason, this article hope to show clear examples that homosexuality is not exclusive of human, but present in many animals. So, there is no reason to continue believing in the argument that homosexuality is unnatural!
Homosexuality is a fact present in many animal species. In fact, it has been documented in 1,500 of the more than 1 million described animal species (Bagemihl, 1999). Without going any further, a study of the California University demonstrated that in all the analysed species there were some individuals with homosexual traits or behaviours, including worms, flies, birds, dolphins and chimpanzees, among others.
In the animal kingdom, the concept “homosexuality” refers to any sexual behaviour between same sex animals, like copulation, flirt, mating, genital stimulation and young breeding. In the case of humans, it is more complex than this because there is much more factors and feelings are involved in this.
From the biological point of view, it is supposed that the goal of any species is its perpetuation. So, which is the function of homosexuality? There are many theories about it and they are not particular because for each species there is one explanation or another. Let’s explain three of them! Marelen Zuk, professor in biology at the University of California, propose that not producing their own offspring, homosexuals could help to breed and take care of their relatives, what also contributes to genetic pool. According to the biologist and phsycologist Janet Mann from the Georgetown University, it is a way of creating links and alliances between individuals. Finally, in the case of fruit fly and other insects, the evolutionary biologist Nathan Bailey suggest that the reason of their homosexuality is the lack of the gene that let them to distinguish between both sex. There is also the possibility that homosexuality doesn’t have any function. At any rate, homosexual behaviour may have evolutionary consequences, but it is still being studied.
On February 2004, New York Times published that Roy and Silo, two male chinstrap penguins (Pygoscelis antarctica) from the Central Park Zoo, coiled their necks, vocalized one to other and had sex. When they were exposed to females, they rejected them. Moreover, zookeepers gave them a fertile egg in order they incubate them and when the little penguin was born they feed her until she was able to live by herself. This is not an isolated case because it have happened more in this and other zoos, like in Bremerhaven Zoo (Germany), Faunia (Spain) and Dingle Ocean World (Ireland).
But this is not exclusive of captive animals. A research done on Adélie penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae) found homosexual behaviours in some of their young individuals. Another research was carried on king penguin (Aptenodytes patagonicus), in which it was observed that 28.3% of males flirted with other males. The reason in this case seems to be an excess of males or high testosterone levels. Anyway, it was found two partners (male-male and female-female) in which one knew the vocalization of the other.
The bonobo (Pan paniscus), apes very close to humans, are a good example of homosexual behaviours. They are so sexual. It has been observed that, in captivity or free, half of their sexual relationships are with same sex animals. In addition, females have sex with other females almost every hour. The main function of this is to strengthen links between animals. In the case of males, in order to reduce the stress after a fight, a penis fight takes place, that consists on rubbing their genitals together.
Homosexual interactions between male killer whales (Orcinus orca) are an important part of their social life. When resident groups join together during summer and autumn to feed, males show flirting, affectionate and sexual behaviours between them. Normally, interactions take place one to one and lasts for an hour, but it can be longer. In this interactions, they caress, chase and carefully push one to the other. Another amazing behaviour is the beak – genital orientation, but it also take place between males and females. Just under the water surface, one male swims in an upside down position, touching the genital zone of the beak. Then, they dive together in a double helix spiral. This happens several times, but they interchange their positions. It is not strange to see them with the erected penis during this interaction. Despite it happens in all ages, it is specially abundant in young animals.
A research made on guppies (Poecilia reticulata) demonstrated that the lack of females in the environment during a long period of time produce that males prefer other males even when there are females in the environment. Not only this. When males that had been with females during a long period of time are deprived from females for a short time (two weeks) they prefer males instead of females.
Some studies lay bare that there is a high rate of mating between same sex individuals in dragonflies. The reasons could be the lack of individuals of the other sex or that female tricks to avoid sexual advances of males could produce that males look for same sex individuals. One specific example is blue-tailed damselfly (Ischnura elegans), in which 17% of males of wild populations prefer male partners.
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Studies on wild occidental gull (Larus occidentalis) show that between 10 and 15% of females are homosexual. It has been seen that they show flirting rituals between them and that they set nets together. They only copulate with males to produce fertile eggs, but then go with their initial partner.
On domestic sheep, 8% of males from a flock prefer other males despite the presence of females. But this could benefit other males because they can present the same genes and pass to next generation. But this also benefits females by doing them more fertile.
The king of savannah, the lion, also have homosexual behaviours. It has been observed wild male and female lions with this behaviour, include mating.
In some species of seahorse, homosexual behaviours between females are frequent, more than heterosexual.
Homosexual behaviours are no only in humans, but they are more complex in people. The reason that lead to the development of these behaviours in animals are several: lack of females, to stablish harder links… but there are some examples in which the behaviour is permanent. Moreover, it has been seen that this behaviours are not artificial due to the captivity of animals, like humans in prison, but they haven in wild animals too. So, homosexuality happens in many animals and cannot be considered unnatural. In addition, if it is the result of natural forces it cannot be considered immoral.