Prostituting Penguins

Adélie Penguins

The Adélie Penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae) is a type of penguin that is commonly found along the Antarctic coast. It belongs to the Family Spheniscidae and subgroup pygoscelis. The Adélie penguins are usually monogamous and they breed in large colonies. (Hunter & Davis, 1998, p. 526) However, they possess a dirty little secret – Prostitution.

Believe it or not, female penguins, whether they are single or attached, will provide sex for stones. Stones, to the penguins, are considered precious materials for building their nest because they help to keep their eggs afloat the freezing water. (Derksen, 1975, p. 77)  Penguins are supposed to collect many small stones to keep the eggs at a safety height.

The video attached below shows an example of such a “sleazy” deed.

Penguin Prostitution – Deep into the Wild – BBC

The prostitution starts with the female penguin flirting with the male penguin. She will initiate a courtship ritual by joining him at his site and “head-bowing” to him. (Hunter & Davis, 1998, p. 527) This is soon followed by their copulation. After that, the female penguin will take a stone from his nesting site and return to her nest. Sometimes, she would come back for even more stones. The male penguin allows her to do this “without displaying any signs of aggression.” (Hunter & Davis, 1998, p. 527)

In some exceptional cases, sly female penguins cheat their male victims out of their stones without providing any sexual favours in return. (Derksen, 1975) Talk about playing your cards right.

So it seems that in the world of penguins, much like in ours, sex sells.



E M. HUNTER  AND L. S. DAVIS (1998) Female Adélie Penguins Acquire Nest Material from Extra pair Males after Engaging in Extra pair Copulations,
The Auk 115(2):526-528, 1998
URL: (accessed on 4 April 2013)


DERKSEN,. V. (1975) .Unreported method of stone collecting by the Adélie Penguin.Notornis 22: pp. 77-78
(accessed on 4 April 2013)


“Mating in a Material World” by Maggie Mckee National Wildlife Federation, 2 Jan 2005 URL:

(accessed on 4 April 2013)


“Pick Up A Penguin” BBC News, Thursday 26 Feb 1998


(accessed on 4 April 2013)


Video: “Penguin prostitution – Deep into the Wild – BBC” by BBCearth YouTube Channel, 31 Aug 2010. URL:

(accessed on 4 April 2013)


“Adélie’s facts” –  Landcare Research Maanaki Whenua

URL: (accessed on 4 April 2013)


Image: “Penguins” by Goran , 25 July 2011


(accessed on 3 Apr 2013)