Recent studies on olfaction in penguins have focused on their use of odours while foraging. It has been proposed for some seabirds that an olfactory landscape shaped by odours coming from feeding areas exists. Islands and colonies, however, may also contribute to the olfactory landscape and may act as an orienting map. To test sensitivities to a colony scent we studied whether King penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus) could detect the smell of sand, feathers or feces by holding presentations beneath their beaks while they naturally slept on the beach. Penguins had a significantly greater response to the feathers and feces presentations than to sand. Although only a first step in exploring a broader role of olfaction in this species, our results raise the possibility of olfaction being used by King penguins in three potential ways: (1) locating the colony from the water or the shore, (2) finding the rendezvous zone within the colony where a chick or partner may be found, or (3) recognizing individuals by scent, as in Humboldt penguins (Spheniscus demersus).
Cunningham, Gregory B. and Bonadonna, Francesco (2015). "King Penguins Can Detect Two Odours Associated with Conspecifics." The Journal of Experimental Biology 218, 3374-3376.
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Published in The Journal of Experimental Biology in 2015, and also available on the publisher's website.