Gay Penguin Relationships As Fragile, Short-Lived As Yours

King penguins, native to the southern arctic regions, might pair up with members of the same sex, but those bonds don’t last very long, scientists (accidentally) found.

Researchers from the Centre for Functional and Evolutionary Ecology in Montpellier, France studied king penguins on the Antarctic island of Kerguelen to better understand their mating behaviour. During the mating season king penguins displayed with potential partners: closing their eyes, stretching their heads skyward and moving them in a half-circle to “take peeks” at one another. To successfully pair bond the penguins learned one another’s calls to stay in contact in the breeding colony.

The scientists did not set out to measure rates of homosexuality in king penguins. Instead, they came to their conclusions after studying the birds’ behaviour and crucially, sexing individuals. In doing so, they ended up with the first evidence-based study of homosexuality among king penguins, and one of the first among all penguins. In their study, published in the journal Ethology, the researchers found that 28.3% of the birds studied displayed to penguins of the same sex.

So what did they find in the behavior of these cute little guys?

King penguins do not form long-term homosexual pairs despite same-sex “flirting”, one of the first evidence-based studies has revealed. Researchers found that over a quarter of the birds in one colony displayed in same-sex pairs, yet only two pairs bonded by learning each other’s calls and both were later seen caring for eggs in heterosexual pairs. The scientists suggest that these same sex displays could be caused by an excess of males or high levels of testosterone.

Of the 75 couples studied, only one all-male and one all-female pair bonded. Which is just like college: You fool around and figure things out, but sometimes you realize, hey, this isn’t for me. [BBC]