Tech UPTechnologyIn love and in war everything is allowed, even...

In love and in war everything is allowed, even among animals

It is well known that in love and in war everything is allowed and that is strictly carried out by some species, such as the Appalachian salamander, an amphibian that looks like a lizard. The males do not deposit the semen directly, but leave it in a bag, the spermatophore, and try to convince the females to collect it. It is at this moment, while the male is performing his dance and the female is following him, that another male slips into the middle and does his best to convince the first that he is the female. If he succeeds and the other male deposits the spermatophore, the smart competitor leaves with the female and leaves him there, planted and without a girlfriend. This transvestism also occurs in the sponge mealybug , a species in which some males greatly resemble females while the rest are twice their size. Therefore, the only way for him to reach a female is to infiltrate the harems of the large males by posing as one of them. 

One might think that in hermaphroditic animals this sexual competition is non-existent. However, a clear counterexample is the flatworm Pseudoceros bifurcus . Although he is a hermaphrodite, he has a more than marked deficiency towards the role of male, all because he has evolved a lightning insemination technique that consists of sticking the penis anywhere in the victim’s body . What does the other do to avoid it? Something that young human males take for granted: penis fencing. And as in any fencing tournament worth its salt, the idea is not to kill but to wound with the point in duels that can last up to an hour. 

It is not only the males who fight: fights are common among the females of the Balearic toad ( Alytes muletensis ) and they do not hesitate to steal the male from others by interfering in the courtship and grabbing the male from behind in order to prevent him from being able to conveniently excite the females. His couple. This is so because the male toad he is a loving father. From his hiding place among the rocks of Mallorca, he croaks his love songs to attract the female. If she likes its appearance, she will caress it on the snout, which is the way of saying in Majorcan toad language “let’s go to the mess”. He grabs her from behind and scratches at her genitalia with his toes as she stands very still. They continue like this for a couple of hours -with the necessary rest breaks- although the love act can last all night .

When the female is already sufficiently excited, between spasms she releases the eggs wrapped in a kind of jelly. The male then hugs the female’s neck, expels the sperm, and begins to open and close his legs convulsively in order to wrap the string of eggs around his legs, where they will stay until they hatch. And that is the problem: while she has the children in her care, she is not available to other females, while they generate a new consignment of eggs and have the urgent need to find a male if they do not want to lose the clutch. The fight for available lovers begins…

Rape is another reproductive strategy in the animal world. Some males of the American brown bat ( Eptesicus fuscus ) sneak into the hibernating cavities and rape the females. females -and incidentally some males- that are in lethargy. The white-fronted bee-eater, a small bird that lives in East and Central Africa, forms stable couples throughout its life but that does not mean that they are faithful or respectful of the other sex ; in fact, rape is common among them.

Interestingly, the rapists are not the “singles”, but the “married” ones, who tend to regularly attack the nesting females, so that the police maxim that the culprit is an acquaintance is fulfilled: in this case, the male from the neighboring nest. And why does the husband leave his wife alone? Because surely he has gone out to rape some nearby female. The situation is so widespread that if a female ventures out of the nest alone, she is likely to be chased by between one and twelve males.

In some colonies, each female is the victim of an attempted rape every five days. In contrast, in other species the scarcity of males is alarming and the females dedicate themselves to chasing every male that crosses their path. This happens to the African butterfly Acraea encedon: in Uganda over 90% of the population are female due to a horrible disease caused by Wolbachia , a bacterium that kills male babies early in embryonic development. 

What about masturbation? Young male marine iguanas are willing to use either of their two penises (as many reptiles do) but being young their size is small enough that a mature male can spoil their fun by getting out of the way while they are mounting a female . This is why they masturbate when they see a female, to reduce the time they need to ejaculate . Of course, for compulsive masturbators there are the primates: the females of the red beret mangabeye ( Cercocebus torquatus ), which lives in the jungles of West Africa, self-stimulate while having sex and the orangutans, whether male or female, use sex toys that made from leaves and twigs. For their part, male deer indulge in onanism by rubbing the tips of their antlers against the grass. And it must be tremendous because they cum after 15 seconds.

Far from constituting a ‘deviant’ behavior – as puritans and prudes proclaim – it is quite common. The best synthesis to date is the 1999 book Biological Exuberance by biologist Bruce Bagemihl. There it is documented how there are female birds that have sexual relations and build nests together , other animals live in communes and maintain relations regardless of the sex of the partner, and there are even transsexuals, which combine behaviors and appearances of both males and females. By the way, when biologists talk about animal homosexuality, they are not only referring to sexual intercourse, but also to courtship , mating, and even parental activities.

Interestingly, among birds, homosexual pairs sometimes outnumber heterosexual pairs in number of eggs, nest size, and care of offspring. It is difficult to say how many species exhibit supposedly “unnatural” behaviors. Among mammals and birds, estimates are between 15 and 30%. We have examples in all primates, dolphins, deer, giraffes, gazelles, lions, wild boars, turtles, seagulls, herons. Even the most famous fly used in scientific research, Drosophila melanogaster , is gay. Of course, of all the possible sexual behaviors, only one is unnatural: celibacy.


Bagemihl, B. (1999) Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity, Stonewall Inn Eds 

Judson, O. (2003) Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation: The Definitive Guide to the Evolutionary Biology of Sex, Holt Paperbacks

Roughgarden, J. (2006) Evolution’s Rainbow, University of California Press 

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