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Penguins use sense of smell in mating

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CHICAGO, Sept. 21 (UPI) -- Penguins can smell and may use that sense of smell to determine whether they are related to a potential mate, U.S. researchers say.

Researchers from the University of Chicago and the Chicago Zoological Society say penguins' sense of smell may allow them find their way back to their nests in crowded colonies, thus helping them stay monogamous, and to distinguish their relatives from others to avoid inbreeding, a university release said Wednesday.

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"Smell is likely the primary mechanism for kin recognition to avoid inbreeding within the colony," lead study author Heather Coffin said.

Penguins, although they live in colonies of thousands of birds, live in monogamous pairs, important for rearing of their young since parents frequently take turns leaving the nest to gather food.

Despite the size of the colony, penguin mates are able to locate each other even after traveling for days in the ocean foraging for food.

Because offspring usually return to the same colony for nesting, there is the possibility of inbreeding among penguin siblings, something that can be avoided by using their smell mechanism, the research shows.

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