Penguins can also distinguish one another by listening to the timbre of their voices. A study conducted by the University of Turin on the acoustic communication of African penguins describes the mechanisms and anatomical structures involved in the production of vocal signals, highlighting evolutionary convergences with mammals and humans.

A new article on vocal communication in penguins has been published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. This article is the result of a collaboration between two departments at the University of Turin (DBIOS and Veterinary Sciences), the University Jean-Monnet (France), the University of UWC (South Africa), and the SANCCOB Foundation.

Using a combination of diagnostic imaging techniques, computational modeling, and in vivo recordings, a group of researchers led by UniTo’s Livio Favaro and Anna Zanoli discovered that African penguins use the resonances of their vocal tracts to encode biologically relevant information in their acoustic signals, allowing them to recognize each other individually. This is an evolutionarily analogous mechanism to what mammals and humans themselves use to recognize each other by the timbre of their voices.

Among penguins, the African penguin (Spheniscus demersus) is an ideal model species for studying how vocal tract resonances encode biologically relevant information. In fact, this species is monogamous, highly territorial, and due to selective pressures and their colonial lifestyle, it has been observed that contact calls and reproductive songs (ecstatic display songs) vary significantly among individuals, enabling them to recognize “nest neighbors” and members of a couple.

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