Kyoto Aquarium Has A Board Explaining Its Penguins' Complicated Love Lives And It's Adorable


Stephen Luntz

Stephen has a science degree with a major in physics, an arts degree with majors in English Literature and History and Philosophy of Science and a Graduate Diploma in Science Communication.

Freelance Writer


These Humbolt penguins at Nagasaki aquarium may not have love lives as their counterparts at Kyoto, but since no one has charted it, we don't really know. PSawanpanyalert/Shutterstock/Oliver Jia/Twitter

If videos of penguins strolling through shuttered aquariums has been one of the compensations that has got you through lockdown, stand by, because Twitter has discovered more penguin magnificence.

Penguins are famous for their pair-bonds, with couples cooperating at great sacrifice to incubate their eggs and raise the chicks. Famously, they're not heterosexist about this, many zoos have male penguin bonded pairs who step in and prove excellent fathers when an egg or chick is in need.


It's important to remember, however, that there are many different penguin species – there is no more reason to expect them to all have the same approach to love as to think gorillas, humans, and bonobos will follow identical mating strategies just because we are all apes.

Some penguins mate for life, returning from foraging each year at the start of the breeding season to find each other, but others prefer to play the field. It's likely most zoos and aquariums keep track of these goings-on, at least when there are offspring, but Kyoto Aquarium converted these observations to a flowchart. An international politics researcher who happened to be visiting decided to bring it to the world's attention.


Anyone who claims same-sex relationships are “unnatural” obviously knows nothing about nature, but this chart is quite the revelation. For penguins, age is not even a number, with one penguin dating their great-aunt who is 17 years old than them.

Even if you exclude the relationships with a question mark, there is still enough material here to keep a soap-opera writing team going for years- the Cold and the Beautiful perhaps - and Twitter has made sure we don't miss the highlights.


One Twitter user has translated the staff's comment about this heart-breaker for us, revealing it says “Basically demonic,” although whether the three individuals currently in a relationship with her agree, cannot be confirmed. Another writes, “Pretty sure there's a Netflix series based on her,” which if it isn't true, certainly ought to be.

Others have noticed something they found even more surprising.


Penguins sometimes decide their keeper is a bit of a keeper, as it were, and try to flirt with them. We're going to assume this is what is meant by the love-heart between connecting certain humans with penguins – one that may even have caused the break-up of a penguin-penguin romance. Presumably, if the love is shared in a more than platonic way, the aquarium staff are not going to be advertising it on their board for all to see. Nevertheless, we are a bit worried about the arrows going in both directions in one human-penguin pairing.

If you want to read about more penguin escapades, check out the New Zealand aquarium that both shames and rewards its "naughty" and "good" penguin of the month on its own "employee of the month"-style notice board.