Gay Penguins Become Dads!

In what appears to be the first animal kingdom two-dad family, a pair of life-bonded King penguins in a Danish zoo have adopted an egg that was rejected by its mother. TheStar.com reports:

Odense Zoo keepers realized two of their male King penguins were a couple about a year ago, she said. Then they noticed the gay penguins would try to “disturb the other pairs and steal their eggs.”

So far, not too odd. Penguins and swans in the wild do the same thing.

In brooding season, though, the gay penguins took to trying to incubate dead herring.

“The keepers realized they seriously wanted to stay with an egg.”

As fortune would have it, a female penguin started acting oddly as well. She’d already delivered an egg with one male then dumped him and produced another with a different, already mated, male. Then she dumped him and abandoned the egg.

In the lifetime monogamy of the King penguin world, this was “extraordinary,” said Christensen.

“Now we have an extra egg and this pair that have been standing with fishes.”

The penguins have taken to the egg perfectly and zookeepers are hopeful that the new pair will make great parents. The most interesting aspect of this story is the fact that this sort of thing—same sex pair bonding and rearing eggs—my happen all the time in penguins, but because they look alike and share incubation duties equally, it’s hard to tell who’s doing what.

What do you think of the penguins? What would have happened had these penguins done this in a zoo 50 or even 25 years ago?

 

 

Photo courtesy of Flickr/ brian.gratwicke

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Comments

  1. Hooray for gay penguins! Showing us humans that a child doesn’t have to have a male and a female guardian together to be raised well

  2. Okay, I love this article and echo Selina’s Hooray for gay penguins. But I’m gonna have to take issue with this line.

    “In what appears to be the first animal kingdom two-dad family…”

    How on earth could this possibly be known? The animal kingdom has been around for eons. I highly, highly, highly doubt this is actually the first two-dad family, and it borders on ridiculous to suggest that it is.

    First two-dad penguin family? Plausible, though unlikely. First two-dad penguin family observed in captivity? That’s getting warmer.

    First in the animal kingdom? Uh… show your work.

    • Joanna Schroeder says:

      That’s why this is there:

      The most interesting aspect of this story is the fact that this sort of thing—same sex pair bonding and rearing eggs—my happen all the time in penguins, but because they look alike and share incubation duties equally, it’s hard to tell who’s doing what.

  3. wellokaythen says:

    This is not something that the “March of the Penguins” covered, though this is probably well-known among biologists for a long time. That movie was overly focused on trying to show penguins as nuclear family units, so a whole lot of their behavior never made it into the final cut. Not to mention the fact that every mating season many penguins find a different mate from the one they mated with the year before. I thought I read somewhere that they DON’T mate for life in the wild, though maybe I’m thinking of a different species. Hardly the traditional monogamous mate till life nuclear family Cleaver ideal.

    Also, do we know for sure that the two “gay” penguins are stricly homosexual? They could be bisexual, and next mating season they’ll be paired up in hetero couples.

    • wellokaythen says:

      P.S. Perhaps this will stimulate a discussion about “deadbeat moms.” She just left her eggs there for others to take care of. When are women going to learn how to be more active parents? : – )

      Is this an example of female penguin hypergamy?

  4. Why are they called “gay penguins?” Do they have sexual intercourse?

  5. Adrienne Kohler says:

    When I was a journalist, we ran a similar story about penguins at the aquarium here in Auckland NZ a few year ago, so it is quite common. Although one of the keepers told recently at a talk about a male penguin who started dropping pebbles as part of a courtship ritual at his feet. Love is always in the eye of the beholder! If you have ever heard talks by Behavioural neurobiologist Robert Sapolsky, you will realise that one, we are part of the animal kingdom, and two, behaviour covers a wide spectrum – there are no absolutes!

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