Why Are These Bears Having Oral Sex?

Move over, short-nosed fruit bats. Brown bears are the newest species to join the list of animals who enjoy oral sex.

It's not that oral sex has never been seen in bears. Researchers and zookeepers have observed it in several captive bears, but those bears were living in sub-standard conditions, with inadequate mental stimulation. It's possible that, in those cases, it was a marker of stress rather than pleasure. But now, researchers report "the first observations of long‐term, recurrent fellatio in captive brown bears kept in proper conditions" in the journal Zoo Biology.

Over 116 hours of observations were conducted over the course of six years, by a group of researchers led by Agnieszka Sergiel of the Polish Academy of Sciences Department of Wildlife Conservation. They recorded 28 instances of oral sex between the two bears, both male, who lived together in a sanctuary in Croatia. They write:

All cases appeared to be initiated by the provider, who approached the receiver while he was resting on his side or with part of his abdomen exposed. If the receiver's genitals were not exposed, the provider would push his head into the pelvic region or use his paws to separate the hind legs. After accessing and initial licking of the penis, the provider would find a more comfortable posture, such as sitting or lying…once actual sucking started, neither bear changed position.

Each interaction lasted between one and four minutes.

Why Are These Bears Having Oral Sex?

The researchers think that it may have started because both bears were brought to the sanctuary as orphans, well before they would have been weaned from their mothers. Their early deprivation of suckling behavior may have prompted them to seek out alternative methods, almost like a reflex. Sergiel explains:

Orphaned bear cubs may suck their own or their sibling's body parts, such as paws or ears, as a substitute for their mother's nipples. They may even suckle body parts of a human caregiver... Forced early‐weaning and subsequent deprivation of proper and sufficient stimulation of the suckling reflex can result in teat‐searching behavior persisting into adulthood, for example, belly nosing in domesticated pigs, or cross‐sucking in artificially reared calves housed in groups separated from their mothers. In the case reported here, the provider may have found a substitute for teat‐sucking that also resulted in a let‐down of substitute "milk."

That it persisted for so long, even after the cubs matured into adulthood, could simply be because it was fun.

[Zoo Biology]

Header image: Malene Thyssen/Wikimedia Commons