Humans are not the only animal to engage in homosexual behavior. Giraffes, monkeys, lions, and even dolphins have all exhibited homosexual traits. But what about penguins, can they be gay?
Yes, penguins can be gay and have been observed engaging in homosexual behavior in the wild and captivity. They will often try to steal eggs from heterosexual couples. When given abandoned eggs by zookeepers, gay penguins can hatch and raise young chicks just as well as heterosexual couples. However, most gay penguins eventually end up in straight partnerships.
Keep reading to find out more about homosexuality in penguins and how zoos have evolved their approach to dealing with it. Alternatively, see my full article with 21 surprising facts about penguins.
Can Penguins Be Gay?
Penguins have been observed engaging in homosexual behavior in the wild and captivity. Much like in the human world, this behavior has not always been liked and accepted.
This behavior was first observed by Dr George Murray Levick R.N during the British Antarctic Expedition in 1910.
His report called ‘Sexual habits of the Adélie penguin’, which detailed how unpaired males and females engaged in homosexual behavior, was printed in 1915 but was declined for publication as it was considered too shocking at the time1 (source: D.G.D. Russell, et al, Polar Record , Vol. 48 , Issue 4 , 2012 , pp.387-393).
In the past, zoos have tried to ‘sway’ their gay penguins into heterosexual relationships. For example, after realising that three out of five pairs of penguins were in homosexual relationships, Bremerhaven Zoo in Germany imported four females from Sweden to try and tempt the males2 (source: The Guardian).
This move sparked outrage among the LGBT community in Germany. In any case, it was unsuccessful as the imported females were not of interest to the males.
Today, homosexual behavior in penguins is accepted and celebrated. Gay penguins can be found in zoos and aquariums in China, the United Kingdom, Germany, the United States, and other countries. Out of the 91 Humboldt penguins at London Zoo, there are 3 gay couples; Ronnie and Reggie, Nadja and Zimmer, and Dev and Martin3 (source: Mashable).
It is more likely for male penguins to be gay than female penguins. This is likely because there are generally more male penguins than females and the high concentration of male sex hormones4 (source: F.S.Dobson, et al, Ethology, Vol. 116, No. 12, pp.1210 – 1216, 2010).
Can Two Male Penguins Have A Baby?
Although male penguins cannot have a baby naturally, in captivity, they are often given abandoned eggs from other couples and can successfully hatch and raise the young. In a typical heterosexual penguin couple, both males and females play a role in raising offspring, so it’s no surprise that same-sex couples are able to do the same.
The first instance of this happening was back in 1999 when a pair of gay penguins named Roy and Silo attempted to hatch a rock. Zookeepers then gave them an egg from a couple who could not hatch it themselves. Roy and Silo hatched the egg and raised a chick named Tango. In fact, they did such a good job that they were role models to other heterosexual penguins at the zoo7 (source: C.Matus and C.Talburt, Emotion, Space and Society, Vol. 5, No. 1, 2012).
In the wild, it’s likely that same-sex penguin couples steal eggs from other couples. This has also been observed in captivity where two African penguins in a Dutch zoo stole an egg from another couple who let their guard down8 (source: NBC News).
At a zoo in China, a same-sex couple tried to steal eggs from other couples and replace them with rocks in hopes that they wouldn’t notice. The unnamed couple were eventually given their own egg from a couple unable to hatch it and went on to become excellent fathers9 (source: ABC News).
Who Are The Famous Gay Penguins?
The most famous gay penguins are Roy and Silo, two chinstrap penguins who lived at Central Park Zoo in New York. They were the first same-sex couple to hatch and raise an adopted chick. Their story was the basis of the 2005 children’s book, And Tango Makes Three.
These are not the only gay penguins in captivity, here is a full list of those known about:
- Roy and Silo – Chinstrap penguins at central park zoo
- Vielpunkt and Z – Humboldt penguins at Bremerhaven Zoo, Germany.
- Harry and Pepper – Magellanic penguins at San Francisco Zoo
- Sphen and Magic – Gentoo penguins at Sea Life in Sydney
- Electra and Viola – Gentoo penguins at L’Oceanogràfic in Valencia, Spain.
- Skipper and Ping – King penguins at Zoo Berlin
- Ronnie and Reggie – Humboldt penguins at London Zoo
- Nadja and Zimmer – Humboldt penguins at London Zoo
- Dev and Martin – Humboldt penguins at London Zoo
- Rocky and Marama – Gentoo penguins at Sea Life in London
- Eric and Dora – King penguins at Edinburgh Zoo
- Buddy and Pedro – African penguins at Toronto Zoo
- Frankie and Vinnie – Macaroni penguins at Folly Farm, Wales
London Zoo famously installed a banner at Penguin Beach (home of Ronnie and Reggie, the Zoo’s most famous gay penguins) to celebrate Pride. The banner follows the theme of Stonewall’s ‘Get Over It’ campaign which aims to fight homophobia. The banner read “Some penguins are gay, get over it!” – see it here.
Do Male Penguins Mate With Each Other?
Yes, young unpaired male penguins are known to mate with each other. This has also been observed among female penguins, although it’s less common because the penguin population has more males than females.
Do Gay Penguins Steal Eggs?
Yes, gay penguins steal eggs from heterosexual penguin couples. They have been known to replace the egg with a rock in hope that the couple will not notice.