Penguins join the necrophilia club

The Adélie penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae) has joined the club of bird species that are known to be engaged in necrophiliac behavior. In fact, in retrospect, the Adélie penguin is the first ever bird species in which necrophilia has been observed.

In a publication, titled ‘Dr. George Murray Levick (1876–1956): unpublished notes on the sexual habits of the Adélie penguin’ (Polar Record, FirstView Article : pp 1-7; doi:10.1017/S0032247412000216) the authors Douglas G.D. Russell, William J.L. Sladen and David G. Ainley report on an previously unpublished four-page pamphlet in which surgeon dr G.M. Levick described:

[his] observations of sexual behaviours in Adélie penguins at Cape Adare in 1911 and comments on frequency of sexual activity, autoerotic behaviour, and most notably, seemingly aberrant behaviour of young unpaired males and females including necrophilia, sexual coercion, sexual and physical abuse of chicks, non-procreative sex and homosexual behaviour.

A 100 years ago, these observations were too shocking for the public and therefore only printed in small numbers. One of the few remaining copies of the unpublished ‘The sexual habits of the Adélie penguin’ was recently unearthed from the reprint collection of the Natural History Museum, Tring (UK). Now, Russel, Sladen and Ainley have honored George Murray Levick by publishing the pamphlet in its entirety. Chapeau!

I know what Levick must have felt. In 1995, it took me six years before I decided to publish my observation of (the first case of) homosexual necrophilia in the mallard duck.

BONUS: Here is the Guardian report about this find, and here the news brought by The Natural History Museum.