How do Penguins Mate?

adelie penguins mating in antarctica
Penguins are birds, and therefore it makes sense that their physiology and mating habits will be similar to other birds. "Oh good," you may think , "now I can finally use all my knowledge of bird sex and apply it penguins!"
Now now, let's not get ahead of ourselves... lets start off with this controversial video i made with footage of adelie penguins mating in Antarctica.


Do Penguins Mate for Life?

The short answer is no. Like 90% of all bird species, many species of penguins are serially monogamous which means that they are with one partner, but wont necessarily stay with the same partner over multiple breeding seasons. Some species of penguins such as the Adelie Penguins shown in the video are generally monogamous and will stay with the same partner over multiple seasons. Saying that penguins "mate for life" can be misleading because when a partner dies, they will usually be replaced by another. The greatest advantage of being monogamous over multiple breeding seasons is that instead of expending time and energy trying to attract a mate, it can be put towards reproduction. Further down the page I have endeavored to create a table stating the degree of monogamy of different species of penguins.

Do penguins make nests?

Many species of penguin make nests by starting with hollows in the ground that they fortify with rocks, mud, sticks or grass. Some penguins burrow into the ground or use caves, crevices or holes to next. Penguins that don't make nests such as the emperor penguins of Antarctica have their eggs sit on the their feet and keep them warm special brooding pouches.

What mating rituals do penguins have?

Penguins have a variety of mating rituals that vary between species. They call, bow and wave their flippers and preen one another. Here is an example of a mating ritual by emperor penguins from Wikipedia- "A lone male gives an ecstatic display, where it stands still and places its head on its chest before inhaling and giving a courtship call for 1–2 seconds; it then moves around the colony and repeats the call. A male and female then stand face to face, with one extending its head and neck up and the other mirroring it; they both hold this posture for several minutes. Once in pairs, couples waddle around the colony together, with the female usually following the male. Before copulation, one bird bows deeply to its mate, its bill pointed close to the ground, and its mate then does the same."

How do penguins have sex?

Everything you heard in the video is true, penguins do not have penises. Both sexes have orifaces called cloacas that are used both for reproduction and for waste. The female lies on her stomach while the male climbs onto her back. The female lifts her tail allowing their cloacas to touch and sperm to be transfered. This process does not take long, often lasting about 10 seconds.

Table of different penguin species breeding habits

 

Penguin Species

Breeding Terrain

Nest

Pairing

King penguin, 

Aptenodytes patagonicus

Rocky Shore

Nest of Stones

Serially monogamous (29% fidelity)

Emperor penguin,

Aptenodytes forsteri

Ice and snow

No nest

Serially monogamous (15% fidelity)

Adélie penguin,

Pygoscelis adeliae

Ice free polar coast

Nest of Stones

Monogamous

Chinstrap penguin,

Pygoscelis antarctica

Rocky Slopes

Nest of Stones

?

Gentoo penguin,

Pygoscelis papua

Ice free

Nest of Stones

?

Little blue penguin,

Eudyptula minor

Temperate Shoreline

Burrows, caves, crevices, logs, etc.

Serially monogamous

White-flippered penguin,

Eudyptula albosignata (provisional)

Temperate Coast

Burrows, dunes, vegetacion

?

Magellanic penguin,

Spheniscus magellanicus

Temperate coast

Burrows, bushes

Monogamous

Humboldt penguin,
Spheniscus humboldti

Temperate/ Tropical coast

Burrows, caves, cracks

?

Galapagos penguin,

Spheniscus mendiculus

Tropical coast

nests

monogamous

African penguin,

Spheniscus demersus

Temperate coast

Burrows in guano or sand

monogamous

Yellow-eyed penguin,

Megadyptes antipodes

Temperate coast

Burrows, vegetacion

monogamous

Fiordland penguin,

Eudyptes pachyrynchus

Temperate forest

?

?

Snares penguin,

Eudyptes robustus

Temperate island coast

Holes lined with vegetation, pebbles, mud

Possibly monogamous

Erect-crested penguin,

Eudyptes sclateri

Rocky terrain

?

?

Western rockhopper penguin,

Eudyptes chrysocome

Rocky terrain

?

?

Eastern rockhopper penguin, Eudyptes filholi

Rocky terrain

?

?

Northern rockhopper penguin,

Eudyptes moseleyi

Rocky terrain

?

?

Macaroni penguin,

Eudyptes chrysolophus

Sub Antarctic coast

Shallow scrape in the ground lined with items

Monogamous (75% fidelity)

Royal penguin,

Eudyptes schlegeli (disputed)

Beaches, vegetated slopes

Shallow scrape in the ground

?

 

 

A question mark means that I am yet to find the information. Please check out some of our other pages - recommended next is "How do Penguins Stand Up":


how do penguins stand up
Penguins have long bodies and short stumpy legs. How do they get back up after falling over?