Penguins appear to use smell to determine if they are related to a potential mate, which suggests birds may have a more highly developed sense of smell than researchers previously thought.
Penguins are ideal subjects because they typically live in colonies made up of thousands of birds. They live in monogamous pairs—an arrangement that facilitates rearing of their young, since parents frequently take turns leaving the nest to gather food. Despite the size of the community, mates are able to find each other after traveling for days foraging for food in the ocean.
“Smell is likely the primary mechanism for kin recognition to avoid inbreeding within the colony,” says Heather Coffin, who conducted the research while a graduate student at the University of Chicago.
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(Photo credit: Jim Schulz/Chicago Zoological Society)