June is Pride Month, a time for celebrating love, the LGBTQ+ community, and its beautiful spectrum of identities, cultures, and experiences. What you may not know is this diversity in orientations, relationships, and expressions isn’t an exclusively human experience. Over 1,500 animal species engage in same-sex coupling and parenting. Even more regularly engage in homosexual or bisexual relationship. Some can change their sex at various points in their lives (sometimes more than once), and some choose to express themselves as the opposite sex. All this to say, non-heterosexuality is nothing more than completely natural. Take Black Swans, for example.
25% of all parental couplings of the Black Swan (Cygnus atratus) are male-male. A quarter certainly isn’t a majority, but it is anything but rare. Consider the fact that Black Swan pairs, regardless of sex are monogamous lifelong partnerships with a mere 6% “divorce rate”, and it becomes ever clearer that these pairings aren’t mere happenstance, but genuine bonds.
The natural question of course, is just how do these male pairs become parents to begin with? There are two main ways:
Option 1: the two males will temporarily pair up with a female who, after laying the fertilized egg, will simply donate it to the males for caretaking (like surrogacy or egg-donors)
Option 2: steal an egg
Of course, the latter option might have some reader clutching their pearls, but far worse happens in elsewhere in nature.
The Secret to Success
Perhaps most extraordinarily, however, is that an impressive 80 percent of young raised by Male-Male pairs successfully fledge (grow up and leave the nest), surpassing the 30 percent success rate of straight couples. The secret lies in their cooperative approach to parenting. These couples have figured out the secret to prime real estate in the avian world. By sharing the workload equally, male-male parents gain access to superior nesting sites and territories. It’s the perfect recipe for a dream home, ensuring a safe and nurturing environment for their cherished offspring. They say teamwork makes the dream work, and these black swans have mastered the art of collaboration.
Through their stable bonds, extraordinary parenting, and the advantages they gain in nesting sites and territories, Black Swans are a perfect testimony to the fact that heterosexuality is not a prerequisite for nurturing or good parenting.
Kraaijeveld, Ken; Gregurke, John; Hall, Carol; Komdeur, Jan & Mulder, Raoul A. (May 2004). “Mutual ornamentation, sexual selection, and social dominance in the black swan”. Behavioral Ecology. 15 (3): 380–389. doi:10.1093/beheco/arh023
Kraaijeveld K, Carew PJ, Billing T, Adcock GJ, Mulder RA (June 2004). “Extra-pair paternity does not result in differential sexual selection in the mutually ornamented Black Swan (Cygnus atratus)”. Mol. Ecol. 13 (6): 1625–33. doi:10.1111/j.1365-294X.2004.02172.x. PMID 15140105. S2CID 6934753.)