Technology is making it ever easier to share footage of animals; something this journal is taking full advantage of. However, the rise of viral video has also lead to an explosion of anthropomorphism, as people try to explain the behavior they’re seeing. Each issue, I’ll be using this column to take a look at a popular, albeit widely misunderstood video, and try to explain what’s really going on.
This video of Cookie, a Little Penguin at the Cincinnati zoo, has been watched more than ten million times on YouTube.
So, is this an innocent little penguin having fun being tickled? Not quite! In fact, the truth is rather more….risqué. According to Kelly, a helpful Cincinnati zookeeper I asked, Cookie is actually trying to mate with the keeper’s hand. It’s just not obvious because penguins don’t have external genitals—which is probably for the best, given the temperatures they live in.
When we look at other penguins mating, we can see that there’s a part of each courtship that involves the penguins standing up, with the male pressing his front on the female’s back. This part always happens before The Deed is done. Cookie’s adorable little hopping dance is actually an attempt to stand on top of the keeper’s hand, thus completing the scandalous act.
And the giggling? Descriptions of Little Penguin rituals make reference to a “braying” noise. Cookie just seems to have a particularly darling voice, perfect for disguising the true nature of his lascivious desires.
I wonder how many people shared that video with their family, blissfully unaware of its content? If you want to be completely sure you’re not sending Grandma smut before finishing that email, send your animal videos to: firstname.lastname@example.org for a thorough debunking.
Jesse Miller, PhD, is the Managing Editor of this journal, San Francisco shelter volunteer, and writes at dogsandethics.blogspot.com.