We all know humans do it. Some people will even show their boobs to a prison guard for a chocolate chip cookie, but penguins?! Those adorable animals dressed like banquet waiters who engage in Morgan Freeman-narrated lifelong monogomy? Yes. They're prostitutes.
It's not exactly new news but an alert reader Jake H. pointed me towards a 1998 study that somehow didn't make it to my daily reading habits because it's too amazing. Apparently when the small rocks they use to make nests get scarce, some penguins will exchange sexual favors for them. Not only do they prostitute themselves, they do it for pebbles!
According to this excellent Wikipedia article, prostitution has also been observed in chimpanzees, Capuchin monkeys, and the crab-eating macaque. That's not super surprising: chimpanzees and Capuchins are gross. And of course something called a "crab-eating macaque" would sell its body (am I right ladies?). But penguins? PENGUINS? I feel let down.
Read some more about the behavior (and make sure to hear Morgan Freeman's voice in your head):
The female penguins observed under the study were coupled with males. The females will go outside alone to collect pebbles, but the males did not suspect their female partners. According to the observations and analysis made by Hunter, the prostitute penguins targeted single males, because if instead they picked a male penguin with a partner, the male penguin's current partner will come in conflict with the prostitute female.
All that stuff about sitting on the egg waiting for their partners to come back is less romantic when you know they're being cuckolded. You're not a faithful husband penguin, you're a fool. While you're making dinner for your unborn chick, your woman is out Roxanning it up for building materials, perhaps sucking a macaque or two.
Today is a sad, sad day. Well, some day in 1998 was a sad day, but I've fallen behind on my penguin sex Wikipedia reading.