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Italian researchers decoded the language of African Penguins for the first time

Aug 5, 2014 16:16 IST

Italian researchers successfully decoded the language of African Penguins for the first time and revealed that the birds have a song that caters to every occasion. This was revealed in a study titled The Vocal Repertoire of the African Penguin (Spheniscus demersus): Structure and Function of Calls published in journal PLOS ONE on 30 July 2014. The study was led by Dr Livio Favaro from the University of Turin in Italy.

The Study Findings
According to the study, Penguins make six distinct calls to communicate. Among these six calls, four are used by adults and are used to communicate emotions such as happiness, love and anger. The researchers found that the adult Penguins have four essential vocalizations and they are
• A contact call emitted by isolated birds
• An agonistic call used to signal aggression
• An ecstatic display song uttered by single birds during the breeding season
• A mutual display song sung by pairs at their nests

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The remaining two are related to juveniles and chicks. The sound made by the chicks is related to hunger and has been termed as two begging calls and they are
• Begging peeps – also known as short cheeps are used when they want food from adults
• Begging moan – made by those chicks who are just out of the nest, but still need food from adults

They decoded their language by collecting, categorising and analysing hundreds of audio and video vocal recordings. These data were collected from a captive colony of 48 African Penguins at the Zoom Zoo in Turin, Italy. This group was comprised of 15 males, 17 females, eight youngsters between 3 and 12 months and eight chicks.

In its finding of the vocalisation, the researchers claimed that Penguins make call through syrinx that is different from the mammalian larynx. This syrinx consists of two parts and they are an independent set of muscles and membranes at the right and left sides. Their communication is a harmonic structure and during communication, they stand up and make the call by their half-open beak. During this, they extend their neck upwards to the level that is possible by them.

The researchers also claimed that many birds along with Penguins can produce two independent signals at the same time.

The African penguin (Spheniscus demersus) species is also known as the jackass penguin and black-footed penguin and is confined to southern African waters.

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