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How to talk to penguins (videos)

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Scientists in Italy have discovered how one penguin tells another penguin: I am lonely, I am angry, I love you or I am experiencing "mutual ecstasy" with another penguin. 

African penguin vocalising. Credit: Favaro et al.


How to talk to penguins

Scientists have discovered that penguins have their own language that they use to communicate important things to other penguins. They make six short sounds or "calls" to express different emotions or feelings ranging from loneliness, to anger, to love, to mutually experienced ecstasy.

Scientists at the University of Turin in Italy studied the behaviour of 48 so-called "jackass penguins" from Africa living at a local zoo, making video and audio recordings as well as spectrograms of the sounds they made from which statistics were gathered and published in the open source online science academic journal named "PLOS One".

When penguins are alone and by themselves, isolated from their group or their mate they make so-called "contact calls". They also make sounds to show aggression during fights or when they are confronting another penguin and these are known as "agonistic calls". Single penguins make an "ecstatic display song" during the mating season and penguin couples (or "nesting partners" ) sing a duet to each other known as a "mutual display song".

Baby penguins make special sounds when they are hungry called "begging calls". Two short peeps or cheep sounds means they want food from the adults.  These high-pitched begging peeps can be emitted by baby penguins for several minutes, in much the same way that human babies use crying to get food or milk from their mothers.  When the babies are out of the nest and want food they make a special "begging moan" .

Like song birds which encode information in "bird calls", Penguins encode information in the sounds they make. The jackass penguins are now classified as an endangered species and are native to the coasts of the African countries South Africa and Namibia. They get their name from the donkey-like grunts they make during their so-called "ecstatic display song".


The "ecstatic display song" is the longest and loudest sound the penguins make. To announce that are available for mating the penguin spreads their feet, stretches their neck and points their face upward and holds their wings out to the sides while making a donkey sound that has earned these penguins the name "jackass penguins":

The "mutual ecstatic song" is sung after a girl penguin finally meets a boy penguin and they sing this duet, especially when other penguins intrude on their privacy:

The "agonistic call" is used when fighting or to warn other penguins to stay away. The penguin stretches their neck out toward the other penguin they want to warn:


Baby penguins under 3 months old make high-pitched "begging peeps" for many minutes until their parents regurgitate food for them:

"Begging moans" are made by children until they are fed or their parents go away:


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academic journal: a publication that has articles describing research done by researchers and professors at universities -

aggression: a situation in which one country attacks another - สถานการณ์รุนแรง

beg: to ask somebody for something especially in an anxious way because you want or need it very much - อ้อนวอน, ขอร้อง

behaviour: the way that someone acts or behaves - พฤติกรรม, การกระทำตัว

coast: an area of land beside the sea - ชายฝั่ง

communicate: to express thoughts, feelings, or information to another person or animal, for example by speaking or writing - ติดต่อสื่อสาร

confront: to stand in front of someone in a frightening way - เผชิญหน้า

contact: to communicate with someone - ติดต่อ

couple: two things or people - สอง, สองสิ่ง, คนสองคน

discover: to be the first person to become aware that a particular place or thing exists - ค้นพบ

display: to show signs of something, especially a quality or feeling - แสดง

duet: when two people sing a song together - ดนตรีบรรเลงคู่, เพลงสำหรับร้องประสานเสียงกันสองคน

ecstasy: to become extremely happy - ความปลาบปลื้มอย่างคลั่งใคล้

ecstatic: extremely happy or pleased - ปิติ ยินดียิ่ง

endangered species: a type of animal or plant that may soon become extinct (=disappear from the world) - สัตว์ป่าหรือสิ่งมีชีวิตที่ใกล้จะสูญพันธุ์

especially: more with one person, thing, etc. than with others, or more in particular circumstances than in others - โดยเฉพาะอย่างยิ่ง

experience: to have something happen to you or to live through some event - ประสบ

fights: To carry on, or wage, as a conflict, or battle; to win or gain by struggle, as one's way - การทะเลาะ, ถกเถียง, ต่อสู้, มีปากมีเสียงกัน

grunt: make a sharp low sound with your voice - พูดเสียงต่ำๆอยู่ในคอ, คำรามเสียงออกจมูก, เห่า, ตะคอก

intrude: to go into a place or situation where you are not allowed, wanted or expected to be - บุกรุก, ล่วงล้ำ

isolated: set apart from; disconnected from - แยกออกมา ตั้งอยู่เดี่ยวๆ

jackass: a donkey ; a burro - ลา,

local: in the country being discussed -

loneliness: being unhappy because you have no friends or people to talk to - เหงา, หงอยเหงา

mate: an animal's sexual partner - ผสมพันธุ์ (สัตว์)

mating: the activity of animals making babies; having sex -

moan: to make a long low sound of pain, suffering or another strong emotion - คราง, ร้องครวญคราง

mutual: felt or done in the same way by each of two or more people - ซึ่งกันและกัน, ร่วมกัน, ทั้งสองฝ่าย

mutually: felt or done in the same way by each of two or more people - ซึ่งกันและกัน, ร่วมกัน, ทั้งสองฝ่าย

native: existing naturally in a place - ตามธรรมชาติ

neck: the part of the body between the head and the shoulders - ลำคอ (อวัยวะ), คอ

nest: the small place in the trees where a bird lives - รังนก

online: controlled by or connected to a computer or to the Internet - ออนไลน์, การเชื่อมต่อผ่านระบบเครือข่ายทางคอมพิวเตอร์

open source: computer software or other material that people are free to use and change to make new ones themselves - โอเพนซอร์ส [ซอฟต์แวร์โอเพนซอร์ส Open source software คือ ซอฟต์แวร์ที่เปิดแผยหลักการหรือแหล่งที่มาของเทคโนโลยีของซอฟต์แวร์นั้นให้บุคคลภายนอกได้ใช้ ภายใต้เงื่อนไขบางประการที่เปิดโอกาสให้ผู้ใช้ทำการแก้ไข ดัดแปลงและเผยแพร่ซอร์สโค้ดได้ ภายใต้เงื่อนไขทางข้อตกลงทางกฎหมาย เช่น สัญญาอนุญาตสาธารณะทั่วไปของกนู (จีพีแอล) และสัญญาอนุญาตแจกจ่ายซอฟต์แวร์ของเบิร์กลีย์ (บีเอสดี) ซอฟต์แวร์โอเพนซอร์ซที่เป็นที่รู้จักกันดีได้แก่ เพิร์ล ไฟร์ฟอกซ์ ลินุกซ์ อะแพชี เว็บเซิร์ฟเวอร์]

partner: the person that you are married to or having a relationship with - คู่สมรส, คู่สามีหรือภรรยา

pitch: level of sound - ระดับเสียง

privacy: the freedom to do things without other people watching you or knowing what you are doing - ความเป็นส่วนตัว

regurgitate: to spit out food after it has been or partially eaten -

season: a period of time during the year - ช่วงเวลา, ระยะเวลา, ฤดูกาล

so-called: used for saying that a particular word is usually used for referring to someone or something - ที่เป็นที่รู้กัน

statistics: a collection of information shown in numbers - วิชาสถิติ

stay away: do not go near to a place -

stretch: to make your arms, legs, or body as straight as possible so that your muscles become long and tight - เหยียดตัว, เหยียดแขนขา

study: a project that looks at some subject in great detail and produces a report to share the information - งานวิจัย

university: a school where students study for BA, MA, MS and PhD degrees and where research is done - มหาวิทยาลัย

warn: to make someone aware of a possible problem or danger - เตือน

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