The Tortuous Lengths a Species will go to Procreate
Adelie Penguins Arrive
Antarctica is still locked in ice, and surrounded by a frozen ocean. Nonetheless, there are signs of spring.
Adelie penguins are arriving – just the males. They’ve spent five months at sea, where it’s warmer than it is on land and now they’re in a hurry, for spring will be short. They have travelled 6,000 miles across the ocean, since leaving their colony last year, and now they’re returning to breed. They cannot lay their eggs on ice, for they would freeze, so they have to come inland, where there is bare rock.
Over the coming months, the few parts of Antarctica that are ice-free will be the stage on which five million Adelies will build their nests.
To construct one, they need pebbles, and without a good-looking nest, a male will be unable to attract a female, when they at last arrive. An impressive property demonstrates your worth as a mate. It takes stones of all shapes and sizes to build a decent nest, and finding ones that are just right is not easy. So some penguins turn to a life of crime. The one who has been robbed seems unaware that the thief is just over his shoulder, and looking for more. The thief’s nest is coming along nicely, probably because he keeps a particularly sharp lookout for robbers – after all, it takes one to know one.
Adelie Penguin in Snowdrift
It’s still cold, but the early season sun does lift the temperature by a few degrees. That, however, can have unexpected, even dangerous consequence.
The sea is heating faster than the land, pulling cold air from the middle of the continent towards the coast. These katabatic winds are stronger than any hurricane. They are the coldest and the most ferocious on the planet. The storms catch many new arrivals by surprise, and are the reason that the spring here is, in fact, the deadliest season. Here, the early birds take a great risk. Some years, entire colonies are lost, buried beneath the snow. The survivors of this storm must hope that the females prove to be worth the wait when they finally decide to turn up.