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It's A Chick! Sydney's Same-Sex Penguin Couple Welcome Baby

A gentoo Penguin with a newborn chick. Sphen and Magic, a male penguin couple, are now dads to their newborn foster chick.
Barcroft Media via Getty Images
A gentoo Penguin with a newborn chick. Sphen and Magic, a male penguin couple, are now dads to their newborn foster chick.

Sphen and Magic, a pair of male gentoo penguins at Sea Life Sydney Aquarium in Australia, are the proud new dads of a 91-gram chick, the aquarium has announced.

The tiny, as-yet unnamed penguin will stay with its dads for the first five to six weeks of its life, the aquarium says. Sphen and Magic — nicknamed Sphengic — will feed the chick up to 10 times a day by regurgitation.

"Baby Sphengic has already stolen our hearts! We love watching the proud parents doting and taking turns caring for their baby chick," Tish Hannan, Penguin Department Supervisor at the aquarium, said in a statement on Friday, one week after the happy event.

In a tweet, the aquarium says male and female gentoo penguin chicks don't have any physical differences, and sex can only be determined by DNA testing. The penguin's gender will be determined two months from now, the aquarium said, because drawing blood from a newborn can be dangerous for the chick.

To think that it all started with a pebble.

The couple was "constantly seen waddling around and going for swims together" as breeding season was on the horizon, the aquarium said.

Soon, the pair had engaged in the species' telltale sign of courtship: sharing pebbles.

"A pebble to them is equivalent to a diamond," according to an article on the website of the National University of Singapore.

Gentoo penguins — as well as other species of the bird — present pebbles to each other as a way to demonstrate interest in becoming a pair. Once pairs are together, they construct their nests out of pebbles, too.

Sphen and Magic gathered more pebbles than any other pair at the aquarium.

Building a nest of pebbles serves a specific purpose: The stones keep eggs warm.

During incubation periods, one member of a gentoo pair will incubate the egg while the other patrols the nest's perimeters, "warding off any potential pebble thieves or over-inquisitive neighbors," the aquarium says.

The aquarium's caretakers initially gave Sphen and Magic a "dummy egg to allow them to practice incubating and develop their skills."

Once it became clear they were "absolute naturals," the couple received a real egg from another pair of penguins that had hatched two.

Typically, gentoos only have enough resources to raise one egg at a time.

"Fostering the biological couple's egg to Sphen and Magic was the best outcome for all penguin couples and the future of their eggs," the aquarium said.

The newborn chick will serve as "an ambassador for its generation" at the aquarium and "will help educate the public on the precious species and the plight that they face in the wild."

Sub-Antarctic penguins like the gentoo face a number of threats, including loss of habitat from climate change and plastic pollution consumption, which is often passed from parent to chick via the species' feeding technique.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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