Seeker Archives

These Penguins Hug the Most

Group hugs take on new significance for vulnerable baby penguins living on one of the coldest islands on Earth.

Gentoo penguin chicks from South Georgia, a remote island halfway between the southeast coast of Argentina and mainland Antarctica, are more likely to hug and huddle than many other penguins, according to new research.

Location and environmental conditions may influence when penguin chicks clutch each other close. The findings are published in the journal PLOS ONE.

It's Cold! So Look at Penguins: Photos

The colder and wetter it gets, the tighter and larger the group hug becomes.

"The huddling behavior appears to be weather dependent, with wet conditions corresponding with more frequent and larger chick aggregations," co-author Caitlin Black of the University of Oxford's Ocean Research and Conservation Group, told Discovery News. "Therefore, colonies located in areas with more wet days, like those in South Georgia, may exhibit this behavior more than other colonies, such as those on the Antarctic Peninsula."

Black and colleagues studied gentoo penguin chicks from four colonies during what is known as the "post-guarding period," for the 2012–2013 breeding season. They did this non-invasively, using time-lapse cameras.

Video: Why Do We Go to Antarctica?

The period refers to the time after parents leave the chicks in order to go find fish. The chicks are very vulnerable at this growth stage, lacking weatherproof feathers.

The researchers discovered that gentoo chicks hug and huddle more and in a larger group size at northern-most colony that they studied on the island of South Georgia. Chicks at the southern study sites on the Antarctic Peninsula hugged and huddled too, but did so less often and in smaller aggregations.

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"Because the cameras captured an image every hour, it is difficult to tell from this study how long these aggregations last," Black said. "From personal field experience, I would say it is highly dependent on how many chicks are in the aggregation and how the weather is shifting as well as how old the chicks are."

Black continued, "Behaviors, such as chick aggregations, influence whether a chick will survive and therefore may greatly impact the success of a colony."

Gentoo penguin chicks are more likely to hug and huddle than other penguins.

Penguins! Unlike the dodo, this flightless bird has figured out how to make a go of it, capturing our hearts into the bargain. With winter well underway, and a historic blizzard pummeling the east coast as we speak, what better time to chill with some pictures of penguins? Enjoy these amazing creatures!

Found: Africa's Oldest Penguins

Once waterbound, penguins are fantastic swimmers that can zoom through the ocean at some 15 to 20 miles per hour.

Penguin Huddles Move Like Waves

There are 18 species of penguin, ranging in size and even color.

Penguin Head-Cam Captures Underwater Hunt

Some penguins receive checkups from tiny robot penguins. This remote-controlled fake penguin's job is to read radio tags placed by researchers on actual penguins.

Undercover Penguin Reduces Wildlife Stress

A penguin couple holds hands, or flippers. Penguin couples are monogamous during mating time.

It can vary a bit by species, but wild penguins can live from 15 to 20 years or so.

New Penguin Flu Found in Antarctica

Emperor penguin siblings take in the scenery. The Emperor is the largest species of penguin. When these two grow up they'll weigh around 75 pounds and stand about 3 feet 7 inches tall.

Emperor penguin chicks will begin to fledge once they hit about half their adult size.

Babies Abound at Penguin Colony Found by Poop

This nest has a mouth to feed. Penguins eat krill, fish, squid and other types of marine life they can fetch while underwater.

This African penguin, found on the continent's southwestern coast, is also called a jackass penguin, although it won't answer to that name.

Humans Visit Huge Penguin Colony for First Time

Penguins are quite nearsighted when on dry land. It's underwater where their vision really steps it up. There, they can really hone in on the colors of the ocean such as blue or violet. Such eyesight helps them avoid being eaten by killer whales or leopard seals, their chief predators of the deep.

King penguins, that is. They're the second-largest penguins, after the Emperors.

Penguins do enjoy a crowd. The Southern hemisphere wins the penguin population census. It's tempting to think penguins mostly hang out in Antarctica, but they're actually all over the lower half of the planet, and further north than you might guess. From islands in the South Pacific, to Australia, New Zealand, South America and South Africa, you can find penguins making a living. There are even three species that call places as far north as the Galapagos Islands home.

Should this gang on the ferry ride decide to go for a swim, they could stay underwater for about 15 to 20 minutes and go as deep as nearly 300 feet (91 meters).