A Zoologist’s Century‑Old Expedition Notes Reveal Penguins’ Depraved Sexual Behavior


Apr 27, 2020


Image credit: Natural History Museum

According to notes from a 1910-13 expedition to Antarctica, a group of penguins known as the Adélie supercolony, have sexual propensities ranging from healthy kink to uncomfortably sleazy.

The manuscript of notes, recently acquired by the Natural History Museum, U.K., were written by the explorer George Murray Levick, who was a part of the ill-fated Terra Nova expedition to Antartica. The crew of the Terra Nova died of starvation and extreme cold on their return journey.

Levick’s notes provided probably what’s the oldest insight into the sex habits of Adélie penguins. He wrote, in Greek alphabet code to ensure decency, of how these penguins engaged in non-procreative sex, and homosexual behavior. They also engaged in darker activities, like the sexual abuse of young penguins and necrophilia. Some male penguins also practiced auto-erotic behavior, which means they sometimes spontaneously ejaculated on ice.

The rattling of Levick’s Victorian sensibilities at these excesses is evident — he documents young male penguins as ‘hooligan cocks.’

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Researchers over time have documented the sexual excesses of Adélie penguins, but this discovery remains important, according to Douglas Russel, a senior curator of birds at the Natural History Museum. “The importance of original manuscripts cannot be underestimated as they add crucial contextual and scientific data to our existing collections,” Douglas told The Guardian. He added, “Material such as this is often unavailable to researchers and now, for the first time, modern science has the opportunity to study Levick’s first-hand account and revisit his conclusions.”

This discovery also adds historical context to the Adélie penguins’ habitat — Ridley Beach on Cape Adare, Antarctica. Currently home to over 335,000 penguins, rising sea levels may swallow the beach, forcing the penguins to migrate from a region they inhabited for more than 2000 years before the present.

Yet, why do these penguins behave the way they do? Russell states that Adéliepenguins function with the single-minded aim of fertilizing and bringing on the next generation.

“…The birds will pretty much have sex with anything.,” he told the Guardian.


Written By Aditi Murti

Aditi Murti is a culture writer at The Swaddle. Previously, she worked as a freelance journalist focused on gender and cities. Find her on social media @aditimurti.


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