A mated pair of penguins at the Ramat Gan Zoological Center in Israel, assumed to be heterosexual, have been discovered to actually be a lesbian couple.
The pair, named Suki and Chupchikoni, are Black Footed Penguins, also known as African or Jackass Penguins (they are native to South Africa, and known for braying like donkeys), which mate for life. The couple was observed to have begun gathering material to build a nest together when blood samples, taken for a research project on avian malaria by a veterinary student, revealed that both are in fact female.
Like many types of birds, penguins cannot be sexed by appearance; they have no defining visual sexual characteristics, and their genitalia is internal. Chupchikoni had been assumed to be male simply due to being larger than Suki.
The head of the Safari Avian Department, Tamuz Setti, told Haaretz, “We had no doubt about Suki [being female], as she is quite small.” The pairing was noted not to be a case of “situational homosexuality,” as “There are a few young available males in the exhibit. We are certain that they made a choice to be together.”
Though not the first same-sex penguin couple ever discovered, the most famous are two male Chinstrap Penguins in New York’s Central Park Zoo, named Roy and Silo, who made headlines when they were discovered to be a gay male couple. Zookeepers gave them an egg of their own to hatch, from a couple that was unable to care for both of the eggs they had produced; the pair successfully raised daughter Tango together. Their story was published in the children’s book And Tango Makes Three.
Since then, other same-sex penguin couples have successfully adopted eggs of their own in zoos around the world.