Penguin sex horrified Edwardian scientist
Sun, 10 Jun 2012 12:28p.m.
He survived the terrors of an Antarctic winter as part of Robert Falcon Scott's ill-fated expedition, but the true horror for a British scientist was the "perverted penguins" he had witnessed engaged in necrophilia, sexual abuse, homosexuality and paedophilia.
George Murray Levick was so appalled by what he saw on the ice during the summer of 1911-12, that on return to England he wrote up his observations in Greek so they would not be widely read.
A copy of Sexual Habits of the Adelie Penguin has now been unearthed by Douglas Russell, curator of birds at the Natural History Museum, Britain's Observer newspaper reports.
Dr Levick wrote of male Adelies gathering in "little hooligan bands" who annoyed the female chicks with their "constant acts of depravity".
Injured females were mounted, others had their chicks "misused before the very eyes of its parents". Some chicks were crushed and injured, others were killed.
Mr Russell said studies since Dr Levick's work have helped understand the behaviour of these "hooligan" penguins.
Young adults simply did not have enough experience of how to behave during their short breeding window, and many respond to inappropriate cues, he said.
A dead penguin, lying with its eyes half-open, is very similar in appearance to a compliant female.
The penguins' behaviour was also interpreted in anthropomorphic terms, by an Englishman witnessing behaviour he neither expected nor understood, Mr Russell said.
"It is not surprising that he was shocked by his findings."
Dr Levick and five other members of Scott's expedition had to spend an entire winter on the ice after their ship was blocked in by pack ice.
They huddled in an ice cave with no provisions and only an occasional seal or penguin to eat.
Dr Levick survived his ordeal on the ice and returned to England in time to sign up for World War I. He served at Gallipolli.
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