It appears that African penguins have their own language of communication, and Italian researchers managed to decipher it.
African penguins owe their name to the fact that they live in the southern parts of the African continent, but they are also widely known by the not so honorable nickname ‘jackass’. One of the features that makes these African penguin differ from other species is the variety of sounds they produce. It turns out that the members of the species use these sounds for communication.
Researchers led by Dr Livio Favaro from the University of Turin, Italy, managed to decipher the penguins’ language after having observed the behavior of the birds in captivity.
The researchers have been recording simultaneous video and audio of 48 African penguins at the zoo ‘Zoom Torino’ for 104 non-consecutive days, after which they compared the audio recordings with the video footage.
As a result, the researchers found that the language of penguins includes six separate sounds, four of which are used only by the adult species and two are exclusive to juveniles and chicks.
African penguins use these sounds to express feelings of love, anger, loneliness and even ecstasy. In particular, penguins use “contact” calls to express their isolation from the group and “agonistic” calls to express aggression. One of the sounds is used by little penguins to notify the adults about being hungry.
“There are two begging calls; the first one is where chicks utter ‘begging peeps’, short cheeps when they want food from adults, and the second one we’ve called ‘begging moan’, which is uttered by juveniles when they’re out of the nest, but still need food from adults,” said Dr Favaro.
The researchers found that in addition to the main ‘vocabulary’, African penguins have also “composed” a duet song (the so-called “mutual display song“), which is sung by nesting partners, and an “ecstatic display song”, sung by single birds during the mating period.
The results of the study were published in the journal PLoS ONE. Among others, the discovery could help in the effort to rescue the endangered African penguins since there has been a large decline in the population of the species during the last few decades.
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