Communication and Perception
The primary form of communication in king penguins is a two-voice system that is produced by the syrinx, a two-part organ located where the bronchi join. Each part produces sound independently. In penguins, the syrinx is only found in the genus Aptenodytes. The UV reflective beak spots may be used for signaling, but the true use is unknown.
Due to the noisy environment of king penguin colonies, adults repeatedly call out 3 to 7 syllables of varying volumes with two frequencies to locate chicks. The chicks are thought to identify the calls by the lower of the two frequencies because they transmit farther in the seeming chaos of many adults calling at once. The higher frequency has no documented use. This ability has been termed "cocktail-party effect." The parental call is thought to be learned during the first five weeks of life and is important because of the lack of nests and landmarks in the king penguins' habitats.
At this time communication research is mainly focused on the parent/offspring connection, but it is believed that the two-voice systems are also used to locate mates.
King penguins also incorporate movements and behaviors into courtship rituals. Males will produce trumpeting calls and stretch to their maximum height to attract mates. Once a female accepts, the two will stand facing each other and will engage in a series of stretching, bobbing, shaking, bowing, and calling. Like all birds, king penguins perceive their environments through visual, auditory, tactile and chemical stimuli.
Communication Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic
- Aubin, T., P. Jouventin, C. Hildebrand. 2000. Penguins use the two-voice system to recognize each other. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 267: 1081-1087.
- Jouventin, P., T. Aubin, T. Lengagne. 1999. Finding a parent in a king penguin colony: the acoustic system of individual recognition. Animal Behavior, 57: 1175-1183.