Do Penguins Bury Their Dead? (The Surprising Truth)

I already know that penguins are social animals, and tend to be monogamous creatures. I’ve read a lot about this, and have often wondered do penguins bury their dead? If so what does this look like and how do they do it?

So do penguins bury their dead? Yes penguins do bury their dead. They will dig holes in the ice with their beaks, before pushing the dead penguin in the hole and covering it up. Penguins will mourn the loss of their mate and experience sadness, going without food and waiting for some time before choosing another one.

So the answer to the question of do penguins bury their dead appears to be a yes. Let’s take a closer look below at how this is done, and how exactly they mourn the passing of a loved one.

I’ve also gone into some detail about what exactly causes penguin deaths.

Do Penguins Bury Their Dead?

Do Penguins Bury Their Dead

Penguins are way more intelligent than you would first think. Just because there is not much to do where they live in Antarctica, it does not mean that they are not highly intelligent and thoughtful creatures.

It is well known that most penguins are monogamous creatures. Although this doesn’t apply to all of the the different types of penguins, it does to most.

Emperor penguins will choose a different mate each mating season! Most other penguins find their soul mate and then mate for life with their chosen penguin.

Penguins demonstrate a great number of behaviors to show how loyal they are to their chosen partner, and just how much they love them. We could probably learn a lot from penguins!

When penguins choose to be together, they will swap gifts with each other, such as pebbles or stones. They will decorate their nesting sites with these stones and pebbles, and stay loyal to this site.

They keep their nest clean by firing their poop away from where they stay. They can fire this up to four feet. Interestingly enough, penguins do not produce urine, as they do not have a bladder.

Penguins spend time with their mates, fishing together and both parents will take responsibility for looking after their children.

The male penguin will often incubate the eggs while the female goes out in search of food. Penguins can often sleep in large groups to incubate their eggs.

Interestingly enough, even though can’t see them, penguins do have knees. They can use these to keep eggs warm inside of their bodies to help with the incubation process. Penguins also have tails too.

Most penguins will go for almost their whole lives without encountering other mammals or humans where they live. This gives them plenty of alone time. I did find some interesting stories though about penguins attacking humans!

Penguins have good eyesight, so if they were ever to be approached by a human, they would definitely see them coming!

So with such closeness between penguin mates, what happens if one dies? Do penguins bury their dead, and if so how do they do this?

I have found several different articles online to suggest that penguins, much like humans, do in fact bury their dead. They are not the only animals to make a big deal of another one of it’s kind dying. Other animals such as elephants mourn the death of their own kind.

Now the act of burying their dead is obviously going to be less complex than a human funeral! There are no coffins or orders of service. This does not mean that the occasion of losing a loved one goes unmarked.

To bury a penguin, other penguins will simply dig holes in the ice big enough to hold the dead penguin. This will often be done by groups of penguins using their beaks to dig the holes, before pushing the dearly departed into the hole and covering it back up again.

Do Penguins Have Funerals For Their Dead?

Like I said above, a funeral would be a strong word for exactly how penguins mark the passing of a loved one such as a mate or a child. They do mark the passing of this by burying them as I said above.

The video below shows penguins grieving after the death of a baby penguin. This shows the real emotions penguins go through when another penguin dies.

How Do Penguins Mourn Their Dead?

If penguins are largely monogamous creatures, and they choose to mate for life, then what do penguins do when another penguin dies. Well as you can see in the video above, adult penguins will certainly mourn the passing of their babies.

What do adult penguins do when they lose their mates? In some cases it might just be that a mate is missing, and a penguin hasn’t seen their mate for a long time. This can be the case when penguins go off in search of food to support the feeding of baby penguins.

When they do this they can be out at sea for a long time. They can survive by drinking sea water, as penguins can filter out salt in sea water using a special gland.

In most cases penguins can and will wait for a long time for their mate to return before moving on to another relationship. This can last for up to a year, before the start of the next mating season.

If a penguin’s mate has passed away, and they know it, rather than their mate just being missing, this can affect their behavior. They will spend time mourning, and can often go for days without food due to their intense sadness.

After this period of mourning, penguins will then start the search for a new mate. This is particularly important for female penguins, as they need to find a mate for the start of the new breeding season.

Penguin chicks also need two parents, as it is impossible for just one penguin to provide protection for the baby, as well as searching for food to feed it.

What Can Cause Penguins To Die?

Penguin Killed By Oil Spill
A penguin killed by an oil spill – Image by Balazs Gardi under Creative Commons

There are a number of things that can cause penguins to die, and I guess the first one that springs to mind really is the issue of global warming. Changes in the weather, and the amount of ice in the antarctic can play a huge part in penguin deaths.

Although usually with global warming, we would expect the declining ice to be a problem for penguins, there are however stories where too much ice in the penguins habitat causes huge problems.

This can cause adults to have to go much further in search of food, leaving the penguin chicks vulnerable and starving to death.

A general lack of food can be a problem for penguins, either caused by the reasons suggested above, or by other factors such as not enough food due to overfishing.

Pollution such as plastic in the water can also cause a huge number of penguin deaths, as can other man made problems such as oil spillages.

One interesting fact I did learn recently is that it is actually illegal to eat penguins!

What Happens To The Dead Bodies Of Penguins?

Penguin Skeleton
The skeleton of a dead penguin!

This is an interesting question, and is related to the question of do penguins bury their dead. Regardless of whether a penguins dead body has been buried or not by it’s mate or friends, it is certainly going to become frozen in the cold conditions in which penguins live.

So what happens to the bodies of dead penguins? Are they preserved in the ice, or do they decompose like human bodies when they are buried in the ground?

Well the first possibility for a dead penguin, especially if it has not been buried, is that it can be eaten by other animals such as seabirds like petrels or skuas. If their bodies fall into the water they can be eaten by seals and whales.

Even if a penguin’s body is preserved in ice, this will generally not stop it from decomposing. It will take longer than normal due to the cold conditions, but this will still happen eventually.

So even if we know that the answer to do penguins bur their dead is a yes, this will not totally preserve the body.

Although it will happen slowly, a penguin’s body will decompose in the ice. Any bacteria trapped in the ice can cause this to happen more quickly. Eventually what will be left will be the skeleton of the penguin, without the flesh or feathers.

Summing Up

So in answer to the question do penguins bury their dead, the answer is largely yes. Not always, as sometimes this will not be possible, but penguins are social animals, and they will hold ritualistic ceremonies for their dead.

They will dig holes in groups and push the dead body of the penguin into this hole before covering it up.

A penguin will mourn the passing of it’s mate. They will wait before choosing another mate, and may go for long periods without eating due to feelings of sadness and loss.

I hope you found the information in this post useful. If you would like to add anything to this, or have any questions, then please leave a comment below.

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