Antarctica Rocks

We’ve reached Antarctica, the final continent on our tour of nature around the world. And what’s important in Antarctica? The penguins would say its rocks.

Adelie Penguin retrieving a rock from the snow.

Adelie Penguin retrieving a rock from the snow.

A lone penguin spots a rock peeking out from under the snow. It lowers its head and inspects the stone at eye level. Not too big. Not too small. Approving, it secures the rock in its beak and tugs this treasure from its snowy blanket. The penguin looks right, looks left, then lifts its wings to the sides for balance and half wobbles, half slides down the hill.

Adelie Penguin carrying a rock through the colony.

Adelie Penguin carrying a rock through the colony.

It grips its rock more tightly as it reaches the pink-stained snow, colored by hundreds and thousands of krill-laden poop squirts, a not so subtle indication of the colony’s edge. A penguin at a nearby nest adds to the pink, then squawks at the rock-bearing penguin. Another penguin stretches out for a nip. The rock-toting penguin swerves aside and scurries forward. It dodges another nest, avoids another nip and continues through a jostling maze of potential rock thieves. One penguin gives chase, another gives a healthy wing slap. The penguin rushes on, gripping its rock as if it were a diamond.

The penguin sees its partner ahead, nestled belly-down in the snow. It slows its pace. It stoops. It gently places the rock in front of its partner. The partner coos, grasps the prize in her beak and tucks it safely into the nest below her. The rock presenter puffs his chest and gives his partner a gentle wing tap.

Adelie Penguin presents a rock to its nest-tending mate.

Adelie Penguin presents a rock to its nest-tending mate.

At the next nest over, slapping sounds erupt. The penguin tending this nest cringes under the pummeling blows of two penguins towering above, one on either side. The nesting bird holds its ground, but the standing penguins flail their wings in a gang-style beating, smacking relentlessly.

Rockhopper Penguin beating a nest-tending penguin to steal rocks.

Rockhopper Penguin beating a nest-tending penguin to steal rocks.

The prostrate penguin twists to nip at one of its attackers and the other leans in to steal a rock. As the defending bird turns to rescue the stolen nest material, the other attacker plucks a rock from the other side. The thieves scatter in opposite directions while the hapless resident rearranges its nest with its bill, nudging the remaining rocks into a tighter core.

Adelie Penguin pulls a gifted rock into its nest.

Adelie Penguin pulls a gifted rock into its nest.

The attackers prove to be neighbors and with as much tenderness as they’d just displayed violence, they proffer their stolen goods to their nest-tending partners. The partners pluck the gifts from the snow and add them to their nests without remorse. Source is not to be questioned in a land of boundless snow and limited rocks.

Adelie Penguin on its nest.

Adelie Penguin on its nest.

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