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Methylmercury Turns These Birds Gay. Discuss.

Researchers have found that methylmercury, a pollutant that's accumulating in aquatic systems, makes male white ibises like dudes.

Methylmercury is, apparently, pretty powerful stuff. It's a form of mercury that's produced as a byproduct of coal burning. It's also created from garden-variety mercury pollution by anaerobic organisms that live in lakes, rivers, and wetlands. Because bacteria, plankton, and fish can't get rid of it very easily, it accumulates in their bodies (it's what's called a bioaccumulative toxicant).

And when birds eat fish loaded up with methylmercury they turn gay.

That's according to research by the University of Florida's Peter Frederick:

Frederick captured 160 young white ibises—a coastal wading bird—and gave them food laced with methylmercury. The birds were split into four groups. One group ate food with 0.3? parts per million (ppm) methylmercury, which most U.S. states would regard as too high for human consumption. A second group was fed 0.1 ppm, and the third 0.05 ppm, a low dose that wild birds would be exposed to frequently. The fourth group received food clear of the poison. All three dosed groups had significantly more homosexual males than the control group. Male-male pairs courted, built nests together and paired off for several weeks.


I'm not going to judge these birds' relationships, but their new orientation has scientists worried because it threatens the survival of the species.

Also, what does the free-market social conservative make of this? Should we crack down on pollution with onerous government regulation or support traditional families? It's a dilemma.

Via Treehugger. Photo (cc) from Flickr user mauricholas/ Maureen Leong-Kee.

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