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Springtime at Penguins’ Rock
Romance Begins with a Rocky Start

Penguins looking for rocks Chattanooga, Tenn. (April 14, 2008) – Something is happening inside the Penguins’ Rock exhibit at the Tennessee Aquarium. Even though the air and water temperatures are kept at a chilly 42 degrees, it’s beginning to get a little steamy in there. “The male macaroni Iggy was seen today preening Noodle who seemed to be enjoying the attention,”
said Amy Graves the Aquarium’s penguin keeper. “Preening is how penguins straighten and care for their feathers. When a male and female preen each other, it often signals a pair beginning to bond.”
The gentoos and macaronis are just completing their first year at the Tennessee Aquarium and acclimating to a body clock switch from a southern hemisphere light cycle to a northern hemisphere light cycle. Penguins get cues from the changing light cycle throughout the year. Longer days in spring usually trigger breeding instincts. So the big question is, are the penguins ready for romance? “We are uncertain if they are ready to breed, but it is important to do all we can to assist in their transition and begin to synchronize the penguins with the typical April onset of the breeding season,” said Dave Collins the Aquarium’s curator of forests.

According to Collins, an important first step is providing the Aquarium’s penguins with the appropriate nesting material. For gentoos and macaronis, that means lots of small rocks and stones. Amy Graves refers to them as the ‘magic rocks.’ “To the penguins, the nesting rocks are the soft music and candlelight that sets the mood,” Graves said.

The act of building a nest encourages a strong bond between male and female penguins. If love is in full bloom at Penguins’ Rock, then visitors will see a large, flattened pile of carefully chosen rocks. Penguins are not above pilfering the best rocks from another penguin’s nest. In fact, that behavior is one of the many that Graves and others will be carefully observing.

“I worked with African penguins before, but they are cavity nesters. They had boxes in the exhibit all year long. I plan on keeping detailed records of the breeding behavior of our gentoos and macaronis to gain knowledge for years to come,” said Graves.

Several of the Aquarium’s penguins like gentoos Blue and Biscuit have had chicks together in the past. But they have not been seen together this season. But Peep, a female gentoo, has been showing some interest in Poncho. “Peep has had chicks before, but I don’t know if she will pair up with Poncho or not,” said Graves.

The fact is most of the penguins at the Tennessee Aquarium are not accomplished breeders and may not become first-time parents this season. Even though several of the Aquarium’s penguins have laid eggs before, many factors can affect breeding success. For example, eggs may or may not be fertile, first-time parents may not have fully developed paternal instincts and newborn birds must defy high infant mortality rates.

Even so, there will be plenty of interest as visitors learn about the fascinating life cycle of these captivating birds and wonder if a love connection will be made. Will Hercules, a male macaroni, be able to make up his mind? “Hercules has shown interest in Shamrock and Sweet Pea. It seems to depend on the day which girl he favors,” said Graves with a smile.

Penguin Breeding Information:

As nesting material, small pebbles or river rock, is added to the exhibit it acts as a marker for the beginning of breeding season.  The act of building a nest encourages a strong bond between the male and female penguins.  End results of successful nest building are large flattened piles of carefully chosen rocks.

Once paired, the penguins will further strengthen their bond by:

Macaroni penguins will do lots of mutual preening and vocalizing in conjunction with head swinging and wing flapping.

Gentoo penguins will be more conservative with their displays.  They stand next to each other and vocalize with necks stretched tall.

Egg incubation:  Macaroni – 33-39 days.  Gentoo – 36-41 days   
Both penguin species lay two eggs approximately 4 days apart. 
Penguin chicks hatch without help from parents.  It usually takes 24-48 hours for a chick to fully hatch.

Both penguins share in parental responsibilities by taking turns on the nest keeping the chick warm and regurgitating food as needed. Parents sit on the chick for approximately 15 days until the chick is able to maintain its own body heat.  Chicks remain at or around nest until fledging. Penguins fledge (or become independent from parents) between 65-75 days.

Watch the penguins live on our award-winning penguin cam.


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