June is Pride Month, and it’s time to celebrate the spectrum of expression in the LGBTQ+ community as well as in the queerness* that exists in nature. The discipline of queer ecology studies the inherent and rich spectrum of gender and sexual expression exhibited in the natural world. Born in the 1990s by scholars Catriona Sandilands and Greta Gaard, queer ecology asserts that expressions of queerness are a normal and extraordinary part of biodiversity, including humans and non-humans.

A pair of Greylag geese, one of the many species that exhibit same-sex partnerships. Photo credit: Tony Smith, Flickr Creative Commons

In nature, there are ample examples of queer animal behaviors, ranging from fruit flies to whales. Same-sex pairings have been observed in over 130 species of birds, including vultures, swans, and geese. More specifically, studies of greylag geese – native to northern Asia and Europe – indicate nearly one fifth of all long-term couples are same-sex. Some greylag geese (see right) spend their entire decades-long lives in monogamous same-sex partnerships, whereas others exhibit bisexually.

Gender fluidity, or non-fixed gender expression, has also been noted in species such as frogs, clownfish, bearded dragons, and marsh harriers. In response to changes in their environment, these creatures produce enzymes or hormones to change their appearance and, in some cases, their biological sex. Other animals, such as lions, exhibit gender fluid behavior rather than appearance. As a means of survival and adaptation, some individuals modify their behavior and exhibit more male or female characteristics.

Taking a look at the queerness in non-humans reminds us of the unique bonds and means of expression across all living beings. Queerness is part of nature not separate from humans and deserving of continued celebration this June and beyond.

Update: The day this blog was published, WAMU’s 1A radio show aired this fascinating show about animals called “Forget Everything You Know About Female Animals.” We highly recommend it!

* While the word queer has historically been used in an offensive and degrading way towards LGBTQ+ people, the term has evolved over time and is now used as an umbrella term for the LGBTQ+ community. The word has been reclaimed by the community and is used to encompass the range of non-normative gender and sexual identities.

Check out HRWC’s core values to see more about how and why we support LGBTQ+ communities.