Article ID: CBB001221004

R. J. Gordon's Discovery of the Spotted Hyena's Extraordinary Genitalia in 1777 (2012)


In the history of zoology the English anatomist Morrison Watson (1845--1885) is considered to be the discoverer of the masculinized sexual organs of the spotted hyena. Beginning in 1877, Watson had published a series of anatomical studies on the spotted hyena (Watson, 1877, 1878, 1881, Watson and Young, 1879), in which he, in which he for the first time made public the anatomical peculiarities of the female spotted hyena's genitalia. This scientific achievement is well documented. But now we can also state that a hundred years before Watson the Dutch amateur zoologist Robert Jacob Gordon (1743--1795), while serving in the Scots Brigades at the Cape of Good Hope, had already made the same discovery and merely unfortunate personal circumstances prevented publication. During his stay at the Cape, Gordon had studied spotted hyenas intensively and recorded his observations in accurate drawings and comments. These drawings have been preserved as part of a large collection of animal drawings entitled Gordon Atlas. With his discovery, Gordon actually was the first to provide empirical evidence of a curious and inexplicable case of dimorphism (Darwin on a beetle) in mammalians, long before Étienne Geoffrey Saint-Hilaire (Cours de l'histoire naturelle des mammifères, 1829) started examining masculinized sexual organs in the mole or Darwin recognized the importance of sexual dimorphism (Descent of Man, 1871). In this paper we reproduce for the first time all hyena drawings from the Gordon Atlas, including Gordon's handwritten notes in the margins in the original Dutch and in translation. Additionally, we briefly delineate the knowledge about the South African spotted hyena in Gordon's time and indicate that we doubt Watson's explanation for the age-old confusion about the hyena.

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Authors & Contributors
Blackman, Helen J.
Rookmaaker, L. C.
Finger, Stanley
Cave, A. J. E.
Karl, Hans-Volker
Tichy, Gottfried
Journal of the History of Biology
Journal of Zoology
Documentatieblad Werkgroep 18e-eeuw
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Berichte zur Wissenschaftsgeschichte
History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
University of Chicago Press
Berghahn Books
Animal morphology
Vertebrate zoology
Sex organs
Balfour, Francis Maitland
Gordon, Robert Jacob
Moquin-Tandon, Alfred
Swammerdam, Jan
Ballerstedt, Maximilian Magnus
Dugès, Antoine
South Africa
Great Britain
South America
Missouri (U.S.)
18th century
19th century
20th century
17th century
Cambridge University

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