Skip to main content
African penguins follow the gaze direction of conspecifics
PeerJ (2017)
  • Christian Nawroth, The Animal Studies Repository
  • Livio Favaro
Gaze following is widespread among animals. However, the corresponding ultimate
functions may vary substantially. Thus, it is important to study previously
understudied (or less studied) species to develop a better understanding of the
ecological contexts that foster certain cognitive traits. Penguins (Family
Spheniscidae), despite their wide interspecies ecological variation, have previously
not been considered for cross-species comparisons. Penguin behaviour and
communication have been investigated over the last decades, but less is known on
how groups are structured, social hierarchies are established, and coordination for
hunting and predator avoidance may occur. In this article, we investigated how
African penguins (Spheniscus demersus) respond to gaze cues of conspecifics using
a naturalistic setup in a zoo environment. Our results provide evidence that
members of the family Spheniscidae follow gaze of conspecifics into distant space.
However, further tests are necessary to examine if the observed behaviour serves
solely one specific function (e.g. predator detection) or is displayed in a broader
context (e.g. eavesdropping on relevant stimuli in the environment). In addition,
our findings can serve as a starting point for future cross-species comparisons
with other members of the penguin family, to further explore the role of aerial
predation and social structure on gaze following in social species. Overall, we
also suggest that zoo-housed animals represent an ideal opportunity to extend
species range and to test phylogenetic families that have not been in the focus of
animal cognitive research.
  • Predation,
  • Gaze following,
  • Spheniscidae,
  • Social cognition
Publication Date
June 12, 2017
Citation Information
Christian Nawroth and Livio Favaro. "African penguins follow the gaze direction of conspecifics" PeerJ Vol. 5 (2017) p. e3459
Available at: