FlipFact of the Day: It’s a mental image too romantic and adorable to resist: A plump little penguin waddling about, his feet shuffling frantically as he searches for the perfect pebble on the beach. When he finally finds a suitable pebble, he picks it up with his beak, hurries all the way back to his chosen mate, and places it in front of her—a penguin proposal of sorts. If the female accepts, they become mates for life. It’s a cute little story of romantic bird behavior popularized on social media and in movies like Good Luck Chuck. It’s also (mostly) a myth.
Certain penguin species (including Adelie, chinstrap, and gentoo penguins) collect small rocks for building elevated nests that can withstand rain or melting snow. While some male penguins are known to selectively collect pebbles and bring them back to their mate, this isn’t so much a love offering as it is a practical present; basically, it’s about as romantic a gift as a twig or feather would be (both of which can also be nest-building materials). Some penguins even randomly steal pebbles from other nests. Additionally, males aren’t the only ones who collect small stones for nest-building; females do this, too. Nest-building is part of the mating process, though, which probably explains how the penguin proposal myth started.
That’s not to say, however, that penguins don’t have any courtship rituals of their own. After the female picks a mate, they usually bow, shake, and vocalize in front of each other; this allows them to learn each other’s respective calls, making it easier for either penguin to find their partner if they’re separated.
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Cover photo: Katielee Arrowsmith/Deadline Press & Picture Agency
Author: Mikael Angelo Francisco
Bitten by the science writing bug, Mikael has years of writing and editorial experience under his belt. As the editor-in-chief of FlipScience, Mikael has sworn to help make science more fun and interesting for geeky readers and casual audiences alike.