Penguin sex deemed too graphic for Edwardian scientific publications

Between 1910 and 1913, surgeon George Levick traveled with Robert Scott through Antarctica on a mission to reach the South Pole. Along the way, Scott's team recorded their observations of Antarctica and its wildlife, observations that were later published in scientific journals. At least, most of the observations were published. Some of Levick's notes ended up being left out of the official journals, only printed in pamphlet form, like some kind of academic Tijuana Bible.

The reason: Those notes were full of Levick's horrified documentation of depraved penguin sex acts—tales so unfit for polite society that Levick actually wrote most of them in Greek, rather than English.

Recently rediscovered and translated, these notes have now been published for the first time in the journal Polar Record. The excerpts printed on the LiveScience site read like something from an addendum to Heart of Darkness.

"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."

In another entry, this one written in English on Dec. 6 of that year, he wrote: "I saw another act of astonishing depravity today. A hen which had been in some way badly injured in the hindquarters was crawling painfully along on her belly. I was just wondering whether I ought to kill her or not, when a cock noticed her in passing, and went up to her. After a short inspection he deliberately raped her, she being quite unable to resist him."

Levick described penguins that waddled about the colony's outskirts terrorizing any straying chicks as "little knots of hooligans" in his pamphlet. "The crimes which they commit are such as to find no place in this book, but it is interesting indeed to note that, when nature intends them to find employment, these birds, like men, degenerate in idleness."

Read the full story on LiveScience

See the abstract in Polar Record

Thanks Chris Baker!


  1. when nature intends them to find employment, these birds, like men, degenerate in idleness

    Story of my life, other than the depraved sex despite my username.

    I was going to submitterate this for the chance of having (thanks, penguinchris!) show up at the bottom of an article about depraved penguin sex. But, I figured that you’d already have seen this around the same time I did (on Twitter or wherever), Maggie :)

    1. “Now what he [Saint Mael] had taken for men of small stature but of grave bearing were penguins whom the spring had gathered together, and who were ranged in couples on the natural steps of the rock, erect in the majesty of their large white bellies. From moment to moment they moved their winglets like arms, and uttered peaceful cries. They did not fear men, for they did not know them, and had never received any harm from them; and there was in the monk a certain gentleness that reassured the most timid animals and that pleased these penguins extremely. With a friendly curiosity they turned towards him their little round eyes lengthened in front by a white oval spot that gave something odd and human to their appearance.
      Touched by their attention, the holy man taught them the Gospel. […] The holy man, persuaded that they belonged to some idolatrous people and that in their own language they gave adherence to the Christian faith, invited them to receive baptism.[…]And thus for three days and three nights he baptized the birds.” (Anatole France, Penguin Island)

    1. If by “doing it” you actually mean raping injured females and sodomizing corpses, as the article describes, my guess is probably not that often.

      1. I was probably just unfortunate, whenever I saw some ludicrously violent, noisy and uncouth sex between black squirrels. Then again, they’re violent and noisy regardless of what they’re doing around here.

        (and I admit I didn’t ask the female whether she agreed or not to the S&M ;)  )

  2.  “There seems to be no crime too low for these penguins.”

    Love the way this guy wrote.

  3. Lovecraft (either in Mountains of Madness or Call of Cthulhu, I forget) has some penguins that his characters react to with “horror”. (In typical Lovecraft style he tells us that they are horrifying with out actually painting a picture of why).

    Lovecraft did keep up with a number of scientific topics so maybe he had heard from underground sources about such penguin practices which combined with his general priggishness explains why he portrayed them as horror inducing.

  4. Sounds like a job for Isabella Rossellini. 

    I still have nightmares about being gang-raped by corkscrew shaped penises that get lost in a  vaginal canal that would put any House of Mirrors to shame.

  5. I imagine these journal entries being read in the voice of Lord Grantham from Downton Abbey. Punctuated, of course, by the occasional “Good God!”

    1. I imagine these journal entries being read by Morgan Freeman for ‘March Of The Penguins 2 – Some Like It Dead’.

  6. the position taken up by the cock differing in no respect from that of ordinary copulation

    OK… I confess that it took me a split second to realize that “cock” meant a male penguin in this scenario. Don’t tell me I’m the only one.

  7. They’ve got nothing on chickens.  I have seen chickens doing things waaayy worse than this.  Chickens are cannibalistic rapists. To wit:  I was separating roosters from a young flock.  I had three roosters, and two of them had distinguished themselves over the course of that month by separating their flock into two compatible groups, each of which would roam about doing their chicken thing all day, then return to the roosts.

    So I had the three roosters in the yard, and we decided to ace the odd man out, and give it to a local veterinarian who keeps a few crocodiles out back.  A single shot to the head, and the the rooster drops dead.  It had barely hit the dirt when the two other roosters jumped upon it and proceeded to rape the corpse with such vigor that we had to drive them away with a stick.    They don’t even do that to the hens.  I am sure that if we had left the carcass this would have been repeated, until the flesh was exposed and they decided to eat it.

    Have a nice day!

  8. Sex is, by definition, all about reproduction…everything else is just ‘messin’ around’. Our uptight attitudes about sex and messin’ around are exemplified by the victorian point of view which pervaded so much science at the time and in particular the science of Scott’s so-called ‘science’ expedition…in truth, it should have been called ‘a folly’…a tragic one at that. It’s become vogue lately to try to defend the scientific value of his group but really, it was incidental to his personal goal of aristocratic status by gaining national/ethnic/racial notoriety; British aristocratic superiority and all that rot. 

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