Spy Eggs Help Get to the Bottom of Penguin Trash-Talking

By Sarah Zhang | March 15, 2012 11:38 am

Little Blue Penguin
Think I’m cute? Them’s fightin’ words.

If you think penguins are cute, huggable things, you have not met a little blue penguin (yes, that’s actually the name of the species). Adorably named but fiercely territorial, male little blue penguins will get into bill-slashing, flipper-whacking fights. One-eyed penguins are not uncommon.

After winning a fight, the penguins flap their flippers around and engage in loud braying (listen here). After seeing (and hearing) this behavior, researchers wondered: Are the winners just really happy to have both eyes, or are they sending signals of their toughness to “social eavesdroppers” in the penguin colony?

To test their hypothesis, the researchers got clever, temporarily swapping a fake, pulse-measuring egg into the nest of an eavesdropping penguin. As the penguin sat incubating on the fake egg, the scientists replayed the sounds of a fight followed by the approaching calls of the winner or loser. The heart rate of male penguins  jumped when they heard a winner, but not a loser, approaching. The males were also less likely to call in response to an approaching winner. By advertising their victories, winners may be keeping competition at bay.

So male penguins brag to pump up their own reputations? Sounds like humans.

[via ScienceNow]

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons / Tanya Dropbear

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