The Mating Dance: How Do Penguins Mate?

how do penguins mate

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You might be wondering how do penguins mate in the Antarctic. It is such a cold zone that breeding would be risky, and the Emperor penguin actually breeds in the coldest place on earth and has adapted in several ways to counteract heat loss.

The Emperor penguin breeds during the Antarctic winter and is the only penguin to do so.

Air temperatures reach -40 degrees C, and wind speeds are high. The water temperature is much lower than the Emperor penguin’s body temperature, and you would wonder how the chicks survive born into such freezing conditions.

The dense feathers of the parent provide insulation, and muscles allow the feathers to be held erect on land and reduce heat loss.

Only 19% of the chicks survive the first six months to one year of life, and there are some interesting facts that you may not be aware of.

Read on to learn more about how penguins mate.

How Do Penguins Reproduce?

In the penguin world, courtship is a ritual, and when penguins mate, many of them mate for life.

Before copulation, the penguin bows to his mate with its bill pointed toward the ground. The female lies on the ground and the male climbs onto her back, walking backward until he reaches her tail where copulation will take place.

Across the world, all 18 species of penguins have similar mating habits, and once they find a mate the courtship ritual begins.

Mostly they will continue as a couple to mate with one another for life, and even more interesting is the fact that they seem to equally divide the duties involved in ‘chick care’.

So joint parenting is not just confined to humans but is very much a practice in the penguin world.

How Often Do Penguins Mate?

Another interesting penguin fact regarding how penguins mate is the pebble.

A male penguin will search for the right pebble to give to his mate, and present it to her.

This sounds like the penguin equivalent of an engagement ring, and if she likes the pebble she keeps it and they become mates for life.

The penguins live in quite large colonies, so it is not too difficult for them to meet the perfect mate.

The actual courtship period can last anywhere from 2 – 3 weeks, and the following behaviors occur.

  • The male vocalizes loudly
  • He moves his head up and down to frighten other males away.
  • Both the male and female perform strange dance-like movements.
  • They then reduce aggressive movements and become calmer.

Once the nesting area is chosen, on pack ice with some overhanging shelter the female lays one egg.

The egg is incubated for two months by the male, and the female goes into the sea to feed. Once the chick is hatched the parents take turns in caring for their chick.

Not a lot of care goes into choosing the nesting site, and it will probably be a different place every year to raise their chick.

When the penguin leaves the nest and returns with the food they use a complex set of calls that their mates and chick recognize.

The vocalizing emperor penguin uses two frequencies simultaneously, while the chicks kind of whistle for their food. The parents recognize their own chicks’ voices and return to feed him.

Do Penguins Really Mate For Life?

Yes, many male and female penguins mate with each other throughout their lives. However, many will also swap partners each breeding season and some will even cheat on their partners.

The Adelie penguins also breed in Antarctica from October to February on the shores of Antarctica building rough nests of stones, and they actually lay two eggs with both parents incubating them.

The Adelie penguin mates for life and stays warm by fluffing up its dense feathers to provide insulation.

Once their eggs hatch in December, the chicks continue to be raised by both parents, and when winter comes the Adelie penguin lives at sea, unlike the Emperor penguin who lives on the ice pack and feeds at sea.

When the Emperor penguin male is incubating the egg, he usually can’t feed for two months, if he left the nest the egg would freeze.

So before the egg is laid he eats large amounts of food to survive until the egg is hatched.

How Many Times Does A Penguin Mate?

The adult Emperor Penguin lives for around 20 years and does not reach maturity for about 5 years, depending on the size.

Their mating process is different from the fairy penguins who reach maturity at around 3 years of age and then reproduce.

So, over a lifetime the Emperor penguin could mate up to 15 times, while a small Fairy penguin may only have 4 or 5 mating seasons.

Because some species of penguins are monogamous, if their partner should die, they may not mate again.

A few have been noted to have more than one partner but this is the exception and has more to do with perpetuating the species and survival.

The Emperor penguin has adapted to withstand the harsh conditions of Antarctica, due to reserves of fat and two layers of feathers.

How Do Penguins Protect Themselves Against Predators?

The penguin lives in large colonies creating a defense against predators as there are so many of them.

When we ask, how do penguins mate?

Because they are in colonies it is not hard for them to meet a mate, through the sheer volume of their numbers.

When the males are protecting the nest, they stand balancing the egg or eggs on their feet covering them with feathered skin or brood pouch.

The female does a similar thing to keep the egg warm until it hatches.

Final Thoughts

Perpetuating the species is an instinctive act in all animals, and the penguin is no exception.

Although the penguin can’t fly, it is still a bird that can lay eggs, and hatching the eggs takes a lot of work on behalf of both parents.

The penguins in the colony are socially interlinked, having a lot of contact with one another while living in their own family group, a bit like humans.

Thanks for taking the time to read this post and feel free to stick around to learn more about penguins and other marine life that we discuss here.