If you’ve seen Happy Feet or March of the Penguins, you know Adelie penguins as adoring, loving and determined birds. But they’re also incredibly weird, sexually. So much so that George Murray Levick, an explorer with the 1913 Scott Antarctic Expedition, was so horrified by the whole thing, he wrote his findings in ancient Greek so he wouldn’t have his gentlemanly British friends read it.
Levick, a modest “Edwardian Englishman” according to the Guardian, was acutely unnerved by the sexual perversions he witnessed, and chronicled all the nasty sex stuff he witnessed, which included male penguins having sex with dead female penguins, male penguins other male penguins, and male penguins sexually coercing females and chicks, and sometimes killing their unwilling partners. These behaviors scandalized Levick so much that he recorded them in Greek so that only other especially erudite scientists could read about them, if they dared. His lurid record, Sexual Habits of the Adelie Penguin, remained relatively secret until Douglas Russell, curator of birds at London’s Natural History museum, discovered it among other records of the Scott expedition and had it published.
Levick attributed the startling penguin behavior to what he termed “hooligan bands” of unpaired males that lurk on the outskirts of the Adelie colony and engaged in “constant acts of depravity.” Researchers today have learned that these “acts of depravity” are the result of the narrow window penguins have for breeding in October. Inexperienced male penguins that haven’t yet learned the appropriate breeding “cues” may mistake a dead female with half open eyes for a willing mate, since such a pose would almost identically mimic the appearance of a receptive partner.
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