Coming out in the animal kingdom

STOCKHOLM is the ideal destination for a weekend break; prices are about the same as at home and the there are budget flights from Dublin.

Coming from car-infested Ireland, it’s a joy to visit a city which works; there is little traffic congestion and public transport, including a Metro network, is excellent. A third of Stockholm is open space.

The city is located on 14 islands (there are 57 bridges), with great public buildings picturesquely fronted by water. A purpose-built wildfowl feeding station, located on a raft moored opposite the parliament building, attracts a huge flock of swans, ducks and coots. There are 24,000 islands in the archipelago which extends eastwards into the Baltic for 70km. The inner ones have lush vegetation, while those more remote are windswept and rugged. The archipelago is well worth exploring; cruises are available from the city quays.

The most outstanding of the city’s museums is devoted to a ship raised from the seabed in the 1960s. The Vasa, intended to be the pride of Gustavus Adolphus’ navy, capsized and sank just 20 minutes into its maiden voyage on August 10, 1628. Wildlife enthusiasts will enjoy the little Biological Museum where native animals and birds feature in a fine panoramic display.

The country’s Natural History Museum is located, appropriately, in the Djurgarden, the world’s first urban national park. This recreation area and wildlife sanctuary, where herons and eagle owls breed, is 15km long and 10km wide.

The ancient oaks include a 1,000 year-old giant, the Prince Eugen, the base of which is 8.42m in diameter. An exhibition entitled “Rainbow Animals — homosexuality in the animal world” is being staged. Advertising posters feature a zebra with multi-coloured stripes. The show seeks “to dispel the myth that homosexuality among humans is against nature”, by showing that same-sex behaviour is common throughout the animal kingdom.

Based on the work of Bruce Bagemihls, an American researcher whose book Biological Exuberance appeared in 1999, same-sex pairs of stuffed animals are displayed, together with photographs and information panels in Swedish and English.

Homosexual activity has been reported in about 1,500 animal species and well documented in 500 of them. Mammals, birds, reptiles, spiders and crustaceans, it is claimed, can all be gay.

Male bottle-nosed dolphins form homosexual couples. Female dragonflies receive characteristic injures to the back of the head from the mating grip of a male.

A study of 11 dragonfly species found that up to 80% of males had the injuries. Long-term same-sex relationships are occasionally recorded; two drake shelducks lived together in Malmo for several years.

Aristotle claimed that male hyenas copulate with each other. Indeed, he thought that all hyenas were male.

His mistake was understandable; the female hyena has a clitoris as large as a penis. However, the first great naturalist was not entirely wrong; some modern hyenas appear to be lesbians.

That same-sex unions are common among domestic animals has been known for centuries.

Individual captive animals sometimes prefer a partner of their own sex, even if one of the opposite sex is available. Such behaviour is not that surprising; animals raised in captivity often have abnormal early lives, with vital learning and imprinting patterns disrupted, leading to odd mating behaviour later in life.

Wild animals exhibiting what appears to be homosexual behaviour, almost invariably engage in heterosexual activities also.

If individuals confined their attentions to members of their own sex, no offspring would be produced and their genes would not be transmitted to the next generation. Exclusive homosexual tendencies, therefore, cannot be inherited and could not survive in a population.

According to one exhibit, however, such relationships have been documented.

For example, a male hedgehog fitted with a radio tracking device in Trondheim in 1993, sought out other males night after night and never approached females.

Copulation was not observed, but the researcher, Beate Strom Johannen, says that she did not observe heterosexual matings either.

Humans hardly feature in the exhibition. One panel noted that forms of homosexual behaviour are accepted in some cultures; tribesmen in Australia and New Guinea, for example, swore oaths by placing their penises in each other’s hands. “Testicle” may come from the Latin “testificatio” meaning to witness.


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