Secret, Censored 100-Year-Old Manuscript Reveals Penguins’ Deviant Sex Lives
Today we scientists argue about things like whether or not it’s acceptable to publish papers detailing the evolution of dangerous influenza strains in laboratories. You know, concerns about bioterrorism, future of the free world, massive pandemics, all that jazz (even though the recent flu research was nowhere near that bad). But if it’s 1915 and you’re studying the mating behaviors of the Adélie penguin, you’re more concerned whether the deviant little birds are too racy for publication in a scientific journal.
These little guys may be the cutest of all penguin species, with their squatty frames and adorable little eyes. But as Antarctic zoologist George Levick found out, they also have some pretty odd sex lives. His writings were deemed too racy for publication nearly 100 years ago, but were recently unearthed in the Natural History Museum at Tring.
They were finally published this week, but it seems he knew at the time that he was observing the avian version of Eyes Wide Shut, formal wear and all. A page from his notebook is reprinted above, featuring one of many passages coded in the Greek alphabet (lest any women glance upon his notes and besmirch their honor).
What does it say? Look away if you possess a delicate constitution (although it’s not Fifty Shades of Grey or anything):
This afternoon I saw a most extraordinary site [sic]. A Penguin was actually engaged in sodomy upon the body of a dead white throated bird of its own species. The act occurred a full minute, the position taken up by the cock differing in no respect from that of ordinary copulation, and the whole act was gone through down to the ﬁnal depression of the cloaca
It’s actually full of interesting biology questions, like why males of a species would copulate without reproduction (something that we do all the time, but normally not seen in animals). But the social pressures of the time banished these observations to dusty boxes for nearly a century.
Previously: Speaking of people in Antarctica studying shocking, simply shocking things I tell you, check out the trailer for the new film about research at the South Pole, Antarctica: A Year On Ice (featuring those kinky little Adélies, yet again)