penguins in Antarctica

Are Penguins Monogamous? Do They Fall in Love?

If you’ve watched March of the Penguins, you might find that Morgan Freeman’s voice and the endearing background music make it feel much like a human love story. But how much of this has been edited for the big screen? Are penguins monogamous and do they fall in love?

Yes, penguins are monogamous and will stay with one partner for a breeding season. However, they don’t always stay with the same mate for life. Among some species, as many as 85% of penguins will find a new mate the following season and some will engage in extrapair copulation (cheating on their partner).

Do Penguins Have the Same Mate for Life?

No, penguins do not have the same mate for life. They will usually stay with the same mate for one breeding season, however, there is no guarantee that they will pair up with the same mate again in the next breeding season.

Gentoo penguins, Antarctica

When a penguin pairs with a new mate even though their existing mate is still alive, it is called a divorce. The number of penguins that choose a new breeding partner to the previous season (known as the divorce rate) varies among different species of penguin.

Closeup shot of two Emperor Penguins standing on mountain

Emperor Penguins have an unusually high divorce rate at 85% and King Penguins are also thought to be just behind them. The main reason why Emperor Penguins and King Penguins choose a new mate is due to not arriving at the breeding ground at the same time. In King Penguins, it is especially likely when the female arrives earlier than the male).

Gentoo Penguin - Antarctica

Chinstrap and Gentoo Penguins are known to have high levels of fidelity, repairing in 82% and 90% of cases respectively. The high fidelity of Gentoo Penguins is explained because they don’t move around much over their breeding range which allows pairs to remain in close association all year-round.

Among Fiordland Penguins, the female is known to react adversely if they return to find their previous mate with a new partner. There can be fierce fighting which results in the new partner being expelled away.

Do Penguins Fall in Love?

Yes, it’s possible that penguins fall in love if we define love as a feeling of affection, although it’s unlikely that they experience romantic love in the same way as humans. The main aim of a penguin relationship is to reproduce and raise offspring.

Coupleof penguins in South Georgia

Penguins are birds and like most bird species, they exhibit many of the same traits as human relationships such as elaborate courting, monogamy, and showing affection for each other.

Parent penguins looking after their single child in Antarctica

One of the biggest similarities between penguins and humans is the sharing of parenting duties such as protecting, feeding, and caring for their young. The instinct to care for one’s young is a universal type of love that most animals exhibit from birds to mammals.


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