June 14, 2012
Here are MetAnotherFrog.com, readers don’t have to look hard to find evidence of “sexual depravity” (for evidence of this click here, here or here). But I doubt even you lot thought you’d ever read anything about…
Sexually Depraved Penguins.
During the expedition to the North Pole by Captain Robert Falcon Scott, a researcher documented much on the habits and behaviours of the penguins he observed. What only recently came to light were the unpublished observations of the sexual habits of Adelie penguins which were considered too shocking and too graphic for publication at the time by the Natural History Museum.
George Murray Levick was an avid biologist and the medical officer on the expedition to the South Pole in 1910. He was a pioneer in the study of penguins and was the first person to stay for an entire breeding season with a colony on Cape Adare.
He recorded many details of the lives of adelie penguins, but some of their activities were just too much for the Edwardian sensibilities of the good doctor. So distressed was he that he recorded the “perverted” activities in Greek in his notebook. I’ve extracted some aspects which were printed in the Appendix of the Polar Record entry by Russell, Sladen & Ainley January 2012: Dr. George Murray Levick (1876–1956): unpublished notes on the sexual habits of the Adélie penguin.
His disapproval is focused on the activities of unmated males, who gathered into bands of “hooligans” remaining near the rookeries and nests of mated pairs “whose inhabitants they annoy by their constant acts of depravity.”
His observations cover the spectrum of human sexual crimes or “perversions” as seen through the eyes of our good Edwardian Doctor…
“Owing, no doubt, to the fact that the season had arrived when their sexual functions were at the height of their activity, and in part to the sights and sounds which surrounded them constantly, cocks were often seen whose passions seemed to have passed beyond their control. Sometimes we saw these birds, after walking some distance, apparently in the vain search for hens, stand motionless and rigid upon the ground, then stiffening themselves, assume the attitude and go through the motions characteristic of the sexual act, in some cases actually ejecting their semen on to the ground.”
“On November 10th, i.e. when the season was already a month advanced, I saw a cock engaged in the sexual act upon the dead body of a white-throated Adélie of the previous year. This took somewhat over a minute, the position taken up by the cock differing in no way from that of normal copulation, and the whole act was gone through, down to the final depression of the cloaca and emission of semen.”
“I took to be a cock copulating with a hen. When he had finished, however, and got off, the apparent hen turned out to be a cock, and the act was again performed with their positions reversed, the original “hen” climbing on to the back of the original cock, whereupon the nature of their proceeding was disclosed.”
“I have said that cramp or some sort of paralysis occasionally attacks the penguins after they have been in the sea. One day I was watching a hen painfully dragging herself across the rookery on her belly, using her flippers for propulsion as her legs trailed uselessly behind her. As I was just wondering whether I ought to kill her or not, a cock, seeing her pass, ran out from the outskirts of a neighbouring knoll and went up to her. After a short inspection he deliberately copulated with her, she being, of course, quite unable to resist him.”
“Frequently we saw strayed chicks sexually misused by these hooligans, some of them being crushed to such an extent that they died in consequence.”
It’s long been a claim in discussions of Nature vs. Nuture that there are frequent examples of homosexuality in penguins,but the fact that these were documented as far back as 1910 is somewhat surprising. While modern day interpretations would be less inclined to condemn the acts between males or the self-gratification behaviours; it likely isn’t for us to judge these birds as little humans anyway. As much as I like to pretend when watching a wildlife documentary by Sir David Attenborough that they are in fact just people in penguin suits running about – they aren’t.