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Penguin teens can sometimes mooch a meal

March 29, 2017

When you’re young, it’s nice to have parents to feed you. When you grow up, though, you’re supposed to find a job and feed yourself.

Most penguins are the same as humans. Once their chicks are grown up, they have to feed themselves. But not all of the world’s 18 penguin species act the same.

Turns out that Galapagos penguins are willing to feed their young even after they’ve grown up. A study published by a research team in “The Wilson Journal of Ornithology” found that some Galapagos penguins were able to talk adults out of a free meal. All the youngsters had to do was beg.

Why would some penguins continue to feed their older children? The researchers suggest that it may only happen when the adults also have plenty to eat. When there aren’t as many fish – which are the swimming bird’s main food source – the youngsters aren’t likely to talk their parents out of a meal. Instead they may get pecked.

The Galapagos Islands are very close to the equator, which means it can get really hot. Ocean currents can bring lots of fish their way, or not. Depending on those flows of fish, the parents’ generosity may change.

Galapagos penguins have adapted to the harsh area in a couple of ways. Most penguins lose their feathers – something called molt – once a year, but Galapagos penguins molt twice a year to get rid of worn-out feathers. Most penguin species breed before molting, but Galapagos penguins wait to breed after molting and may not breed at all if there aren’t enough fish to eat.

So if you ever happen to travel to the Galapagos Islands and see lots of young penguins, you will know there is plenty of fish for the birds to eat.

— Brett French, Gazette Outdoors editor