PRACTITIONERS of the oldest profession have been found at work on the icy shores of Antarctica plying their trade in a dress of black and white feathers - they are penguin prostitutes.

The first recorded examples of bird prostitution have been observed in colonies of Adelie penguins on Ross Island, about 800 miles from the South Pole, by Dr Fiona Hunter of Cambridge University and Dr Lloyd Davis of the University of Otago, supported by the New Zealand Antarctic Programme.

They observed how male Adelies pay for sexual favours with rocks and stones, a limited resource that can prove crucial for the survival of broods. In no other bird have such extra-marital exchanges been recorded, said Dr Hunter, a post-doctoral researcher who has made annual visits to Antarctica to study their sex life.

She described how, at the start of the breeding season, the penguins hunt for stones. Once all the loose rocks have been collected, they attempt to peck them out of the frozen mud to construct a nest platform, crucial to keep eggs high and dry above mud and chilly melt water.

Stones are so valuable that they will steal them from each other, though they risk being attacked by the owners of the hard currency. In the journal Auk, Drs Hunter and Davis describe how females have developed another strategy: they lure nearby male penguins for sex in exchange for the rocks. "Females have figured out that one way to steal the stones without being attacked is to swap copulations for them," said Dr Hunter.

They slip away from their partner and wander over to the nest of an unpaired male. Standard courtship follows, with a dip of the head and a coy look from the corner of her eye. If he shows interest, she will lie prone which, in the language of penguin love, is an invitation to mate or carry out what the scientists call "extra-pair copulation".

Once mating is over, the female picks up her payment, a stone, and carries it to her nesting platform. Sometimes their customers are so satisfied that the females can return for second helpings of stones, without having to offer more sex. Other females found that a little courtship was enough to persuade a male to allow them to play with a rock, then cart it away. One especially teasing female managed to collect 62 stones this way, said Dr Hunter. "The males were probably duped into thinking that she was a possible partner."

The zoologists are now analysing the benefits of penguin whoredom. While the male may lose some of his rocks, he gains the possibility of fathering extra chicks. The benefits to the females are less clear. "I don't think that she is just after his stones," said Dr Hunter. "Perhaps the female mates with an extra male for another reason, say to increase the quality or genetic variability of her offspring. This seems reasonable given that not all males actually father the chicks they help to rear."

Another reason for seeking male company could be to form a relationship with a potential mate for the next season if her partner dies. The team is now planning another trip to the frozen continent to uncover more details of the penguin's complicated love life.

sentex.net
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  1. anney Says:

    Woah!I can't believe even penguins do this prostituting thing.


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