How king penguin chicks know their place

‘King penguin colonies are very crowded and can stretch for more than 1km on the relatively flat and featureless beaches, yet individuals know how to find their place within such colonies’

‘King penguin colonies are very crowded and can stretch for more than 1km on the relatively flat and featureless beaches, yet individuals know how to find their place within such colonies’

 

Displaced penguin chicks navigate well in pairs as they find their way back to base in their colony, according to a new study. King penguin chicks gather together in “creches” as they wait for parents to return with food, and if a chick gets moved to a different place in the colony it is important to get back so that the parents can find it, says researcher Anna Nesterova from the University of Oxford.

“King penguin colonies are very crowded and can stretch for more than 1km on the relatively flat and featureless beaches, yet individuals know how to find their place within such colonies,” she says.

Nesterova and colleagues tracked 31 pairs of chicks that were artificially separated from their creches as they made their way back to the correct part of the Ratmanoff colony on the Kerguelen Islands in the southern Indian Ocean.

The chicks navigated well in pairs, and even took turns leading in some cases. Also, pairs from the same creche arrived closer to their original location than pairs where the individual chicks were from different creches.

The study, which was funded by the Institut Polaire Français and Marie Curie Actions and published in Animal Behaviour, will help us to better understand group navigation in animals, according to Nesterova, who was surprised at how quickly the chicks from different creches split up along their path back.

“The chicks like to be in a group, but going towards the right destination seems to be more important,” she says. “It makes sense: if you do not know where your partner is heading, it is better not to take the risk and end up at the wrong end of the colony.”

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