Are there queer animals? Clownfish that change sex, and other species that demonstrate queer behavior | Stories


Animals that change sex

Often found nestled amid anemones in coral reefs, clownfish are instantly recognizable. But did you know that male clownfish can become female?

Groups of clownfish are led by a female, while the second-in-command fish is male. When the leader dies, the next-in-line male changes into a female in order to become the leader. The tightly maintained hierarchy helps to avoid conflict and facilitate a healthy life.6 And clownfish aren’t the only ones. In fact, around 500 fish species change their sex as adults!7

Animals that are a combination of sexes

Lots of animals have a combination of male and female characteristics.

In butterflies, this phenomenon can show up as distinctly as one wing displaying the pattern typically seen on male butterflies and the other wing displaying the pattern typically seen on a female of the same species. Others are less obvious, such as a body shape that combines aspects of a female and male body.8 Also known as gynandromorphs, intersex butterflies are rare, but special and stunning to ecologists and butterfly lovers alike.

Another example is the bearded dragon, a lizard found in Australia’s arid deserts. When its eggs incubate—the process of growing into an embryo and then hatching into a lizard—at higher temperatures, a genetically male egg could hatch into a female lizard with some male-like characteristics. An intersex bearded dragon’s body resembles the body of a female, but its boldness resembles the behavior of a male.9

Even whales can have both male and female body parts! Belugas, for example, can have reproductive organs from both sexes.10

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