AR-News: How penguin dads keep fish for chicks

Andrew Gach unclewolf at
Sun Jul 4 10:43:14 EDT 2004

BlankHow penguin dads keep fish for chicks

New Scientist vol 183 issue 2454 - 03 July 2004, page 17

MALE king penguins have a unique way of putting the digestive process in
their stomachs on hold. By producing less stomach acid and all but
immobilising their guts, the birds can preserve fish in their bellies for up
to three weeks to provide an emergency meal for hatching chicks.

Males take the last turn in incubating their eggs. Foraging females usually
return to feed the chicks, but are often delayed, leaving the task to males
who may have eaten their last meal weeks earlier. Yvon Le Mahon and his team
at the National Centre for Scientific Research in Strasbourg, France, had
previously shown that male penguin guts secrete antibacterial chemicals that
preserve food. But that didn't explain why the food is not digested.

To find out, the researchers inserted gastric probes into the bellies of 15
male penguins (Aptenodytes patagonica) on Possession Island in the southern
Indian Ocean. The stomach temperatures of all the birds remained constant.
But pH levels in the gut were much higher than the optimum level at which
digestive enzymes work (The Journal of Experimental Biology, vol 207, p

That suggests that the birds suppress the amount of acid in their stomach to
limit the digestion process. Most of the birds also significantly reduced
their gut movements, helping keep their stomach contents intact.

More information about the AR-News mailing list