Our shared planet is home to billions and billions of species. With this amount of diversity, it's no wonder that life takes on a variety of embodiments, gender expressions, family structures, and sexual strategies. What is surprising though, is that even many well-known species form relationships outside of what is commonly viewed as the reproduction-based "norm." In fact, queer behavior is quite common in the natural world!
In the coniferous forests of northern Europe and Siberia, both male and female red squirrels participate in homosexual mating with multiple partners outside of breeding season. "Seasonal bisexuality," if you will. Bisexuality is also seen in red foxes throughout the Northern Hemisphere. Males have typically the same amount of female and male partners, whereas females are most commonly observed as same-sex-oriented. In some communities, as many as 95 percent of females do not reproduce in their lifetime. Bonobo apes are nearly all bisexual as well, with same-sex female relationships forming the core of their social hierarchy.
Sex isn’t the main factor in some of nature’s strongest family bonds. Female grizzly bears often co-parent their young with several other mothers. The cubs respond to their mothers’ aid and command equally. The same behavior is seen in giraffes. Nursery groups of calves are created so that adult females can rotate watch and have a moment to feed alone from the group.
Gender expression is also fluid in the wild. Avocado trees switch back and forth between male and female reproductive parts within a 36 hour period. During the day, they open up pollen-producing flowers and by night they bloom pollen receiving buds. The striped parrotfish has five identified genders and transsexuality is so common in the species that it is considered bizarre when not observed. Over 23,000 forms of embodiment exist for fungi as do many forms of asexual and nonsexual reproduction methods between them. Sociologist Myra J.Hird proclaimed that, for mushrooms, "there are so many genders, so little time."
Bottlenose dolphins, flamingoes, and greylag geese all form life-lasting male partnerships, sometimes triads. Up to three-fourths of all male dolphins live in these same-sex relationships. Only about 20 percent of greylag geese do, however, these couples often assume high-ranking positions in the flock’s social structure. Male flamingoes parent together, incubating orphan eggs, hatching, and raising foster chicks. Parenting duties are shared evenly between the two or three adults.
Many more species transcend the common concepts of sexuality, gender expression, kinship, societal and family structure. These examples affirm a world that does not fit into neat categories, but one that is forever evolving and beautiful in its diversity. They also demonstrate that far too often our human ways of viewing the world are not wide enough. Understanding and appreciating queer ecology allows us to expand our ideas of what it is to build relationships, live, and love on this planet.
Let's celebrate the diversity of our wild, beautiful planet!