True Love: Do Penguins Mate For Life?

do penguins mate for life

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Penguins are flightless seabirds found only in the Southern hemisphere and almost exclusively below the equator.

With 18 species worldwide, these fascinating birds each have their own similar, but unique mating rituals that they go through to find the perfect mate.

Today, we will take a closer look at penguins’ love life and answer a question that often comes up when discussing these birds. Do penguins mate for life?

No, penguins will often choose a different mating partner from season to season, largely due to the inefficiencies of finding their partners amongst the crowd and the extensive access to new mates each year.

Are Penguins Monogamous?

Yes, penguins are monogamous which means they will stay with the same partner for the full breeding season.

However, they will often change partners from season to season, but the number of pairs that remain together for more than one breeding season will vary depending on the species.

For example, Emperor Penguins have the highest divorce rate of all penguin species at around 85%. Despite them having one partner per breeding cycle, they will have multiple over their lifetime.

Whereas some species such as Little Penguins have a divorce rate of between 0 – 40%, and will often stay with their partners for between 1-13 years and have between 1-8 mates in their lifetime.

Below I’ve listed a table of the fidelity of different penguin species:

Emperor Penguin85%
Magellanic Penguin83% – 86%
Adelie Penguin60% – 80%
Yellow-Eyed Penguin60%
Fiordland Penguin75%
Galapagos Penguin85%
Macaroni Penguin71% – 79%
African Penguin80% – 92%
King Penguin29%
Chinstrap Penguin82%
Gentoo Penguin49% – 90%

Across all penguin species, it’s believed that on average around 60 – 90% of pairs remain together over successive seasons, though it can also drop to between 10 – 15% for some species.

Do Penguins Fall In Love?

During penguin courtship, a male penguin will find the smoothest pebble he possibly can and provide it to a female as a gift.

If she’s happy with the offering, she will place it in the nest, and the pair will continue building up their pebble mound in preparation for when eggs come along.

It is certainly possible that penguins fall in love if we’re defining love as feelings of affection, but it’s unlikely they experience it the same way that humans do.

The main aim of penguin relationships is to reproduce and continue their species, and this is innately hardwired into them.

Penguins are just like many other birds and animals, they display many of the same traits as human relationships such as courtships, affection, and monogamy.

Just like we humans, they even share parenting duties such as protecting, feeding, and caring for their young.

Their instinct to care and provide for their young is strong, and love is seen across many animals including birds and mammals.

That said, much of a penguin’s relationship is centered around the need to reproduce, and they will typically look for a new mate if breeding is unsuccessful.

Penguins’ love’ is more around building a family and ensuring the survival of their species and not so much about the romantic feelings that humans experience.

Do Penguins Cheat On Their Partners?

Despite penguins being for the most part monogamous, many of them may not be as faithful to their partners as they appear.

Nearly a third of female Humboldt penguins cheat on their partners, oftentimes with members of the same sex.

Some species such as the Adelie penguins have even turned to prostitution, with one in ten female Adelie penguins having a bit on the side.

In a study of Humboldt penguins in Peru, researchers found that 19.2% of males and 30.7% of females engage in extrapair copulations, which means mating with another that is not their partner.

Male ‘cheating’ always took place at the nest, whereas 92% of female copulation was away from the nest, but none of these resulted in offspring.

Little Penguins that reside only in Australia and New Zealand have been recorded as having up to four partners in one day.

In some cases, female Little Penguins have been recorded in the burrow with another male penguin before laying their egg, so the real father may be a mystery.

It’s worth noting that Little Penguins have a very short lifespan which means there is less time to reproduce, likely the reason why they feel the need to copulate so much.

What Do Penguins Do When Their Mate Dies?

When a penguin’s mate dies, they proceed to bury the dead by digging holes in the ice with their beaks before pushing the dead penguin into the hole and then covering it up.

Penguins mourn the loss of their mate and experience sadness like many other animals do, often going without food for days and giving some time before moving on.

However, the quest to produce offspring is still there, and after a short while, they will return to the same breeding ground and look for a new mate to produce offspring with.

Final Thoughts

So, do penguins mate for life? No, they will mate for the full breeding season and sometimes return to that same mate the next season, but often they find a new mate when the new season comes around.

This is easier for penguins as finding their mate in such a vast crowd is difficult, and given the number of options and new penguins looking to breed it makes finding a new mate more efficient.

That said, many species of penguin are monogamous and will stay with their mates for multiple breeding seasons at a time, sometimes for 10 years plus.

It all depends on the species as they are all different when it comes to breeding. Some penguins even cheat regularly, sneaking away from the nest a mating with other penguins.

Hopefully, this post has provided some insight into the mating life of penguins and why some stay together for life and others don’t.

If you’ve enjoyed this post, feel free to stick around to learn more about penguins and other marine life that we discuss here at MarinePatch.