Penguin Monogamy and Separation

With its spiky head plumage and intense red eyes, the southern rockhopper penguin (Eudyptes chrysocome, seen above) looks more like a punk guy with attitude than a committed monogamous penguin partner. But these males mate for life, reuniting with the same female year after year during mating season. Despite their monogamous mating patterns, however, the penguins really don’t spend much time together,  according to a new study. Using GPS trackers mounted to the penguins’ legs, scientists monitored 16 Rockhoppers from a colony in the Falkland Islands over the course of a mating season.

sn-penguins_2 The data show that males arrived at the nesting site approximately 6 days before their female counterparts and stayed about 6 days longer. However, the short mating season means the pairs are only united for about 20 days a year. And when they were separated, it was usually by a large distance: During the winter months, partners were separated by an average distance of about 400 miles, and one pair was observed as far as 1800 miles apart, the team reports online today in Biology Letters. Despite the large spatial segregation, their habitats were quite similar, ruling out the possibility that partners are spending the winter months apart because of sex-based differences in habitat or food preference. So why don’t the birds just stick together? So far it’s still a mystery, but the team speculates that if the penguins arrived at and left the nesting site at the same time, they’d be much more likely to spend the winter together. But because the females show up late and leave early, the problem of finding one another after a week of dispersing through the open ocean might not be worth it—it’s just easier to just meet back at the nesting site next year.

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2 Responses to “Penguin Monogamy and Separation”

  1. Mark Says:

    20 days sounds like more than enough time.

  2. Bernie Says:

    I have found this very interesting information, I would have definitely thought they’d meet up somewhere in the ocean together especially because they’re monogamous penguins, so they only stay together for 20 days a year protecting each other and there eggs/chicks, that’s so amazing. But what happens if there partners don’t return for a year, do they just leave and the next year find another mate? I just love penguins they are very interesting how they differ from each species, from where they breed and how they breed and mating. I have an adopted penguin in the Falklands, he’s a megalanic penguin called Herbert, I’ve adopted him for about 7-8 yrs I think and it’s fantastic the information I receive every few months from Mike Bingham. I try to keep up with most penguin breeds and I find this site so interesting. I look forward to learning more on rockhoppers and of course on Herbert. Thank you so much for all the hard work that’s carried out each year. Penguins are one of the most interesting species ever. Xxx

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