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Little Penguins Work Together To Hunt But Don't Share Catch, Say Researchers

Dec 17, 2015 12:47 PM EST
Little Penguins
Little penguins work together to hunt schools of fish to increase their chances of finding prey. However, once the prey is found, it is every penguin for themselves.
(Photo : Flickr: Ken & Nyetta)

Group hunts gives predators the upper hand during the catching stage, but the techinique often causes internal competition when it comes to the eating stage. A recent study, led by researchers from Deakin University, Australia, discovered that little penguins are quick to turn their backs on teammates once they've captured a fish they don't want to share. They are also more likely hunt as a team when they are after schooling prey, such as fish, as opposed to when they are hunting solitary prey, such as crab. 

"This study showed little penguins gained no benefit in capturing prey when from hunting in groups, suggesting individuals may forage in groups to improve detection of prey or avoid predation but, once they find prey, it is every penguin for themselves," lead author Grace Sutton explained in a news release.

Little penguins (Eudyptula minor) are the world's smallest penguins, measuring only 13 inches tall on average. These small penguins are native to Australia and New Zealand, where they spend most of the day swimming at sea and diving for fish, cephalopods and crustaceans. 

For their study, researchers filmed 21 little penguins from two breeding colonies in south-eastern Australia to reveal their prey types, hunting strategies, and overall success when hunting alone or together.

Based on the video footage, researchers found the penguins were no more or less successful at capturing schooling prey than solitary prey. Furthermore, individuals exhibited more success when hunting schooling fish on their own rather than as a group. This suggests the animals simply form hunting packs to detect prey more easily than they would if they were searching on their own.  

"Further to this, little penguins are susceptible to falling victim to higher order predators like sharks and seals due to their size, so we think that foraging in groups may be a strategy to ward off attacks," John Arnould, an associate professor and research supervisor, added in the university's release. "This is a great step forward in our research in terms of understanding the foraging strategies of our little penguins."

Their study was recently published in the journal PLOS ONE

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