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Journal of Experimental Biology partnership with Dryad

The invisible cues that guide king penguin chicks home. The use of magnetic and acoustic cues during orientation and short-range navigation
Anna P. Nesterova, Jules Chiffard, Charline Couchoux, Francesco Bonadonna


King penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus) live in large and densely populated colonies, where navigation can be challenging due to the presence of many conspecifics that could obstruct locally available cues. Our previous experiments demonstrated that visual cues were important but not essential for king penguin chicks' homing. The main objective of this study was to investigate the importance of non-visual cues, such as magnetic and acoustic cues, for chicks' orientation and short-range navigation. In a series of experiments, the chicks were individually displaced from the colony to an experimental arena where they were released under different conditions. In the magnetic experiments, a strong magnet was attached to the chicks' heads. Trials were conducted in daylight and at night to test the relative importance of visual and magnetic cues. Our results showed that when the geomagnetic field around chicks was modified, their orientation in the arena and the overall ability to home was not affected. In the low sound experiment we limited the acoustic cues available to the chicks by putting ear pads over their ears, and in the loud sound experiment we provided additional acoustic cues by broadcasting colony sounds on the opposite side of the arena to the real colony. In the low sound experiment, the behavior of the chicks was not affected by the limited sound input. In the loud sound experiment, the chicks reacted strongly to the colony sound. These results suggest that king penguin chicks may use the sound of the colony while orienting towards their home.