No GPS! How animals find their way home?
By Ding Qian

Have you ever got lost in a crowd, desperately looking for directions? Well, we all get lost sometimes. Thanks to technology, we have GPS now! 

However, there is one creature in the world that possesses an extraordinary ability to locate its home and relatives. 

Native to the snow-covered continent of Antarctica, king penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus) are well-known for their beauty and social skills but they are also gifted with a remarkable sense of finding their way back home. 

King penguins are the second-largest species of penguins, who generally hang out in large groups.

King penguins. /VCG Photo

King penguins. /VCG Photo

The king penguin stands at 70 to 100 centimeters tall and weighs from 9.3 to 18 kilograms. Only emperor penguins are bigger than king penguins in size.

With a broad cheek patch and dark feathers, they possess a stark resemblance to emperor penguins. But the cheek patch of an adult king penguin is solid bright orange and the upper chest is deep orange. An emperor penguin tends to have a yellow-and-white cheek patch and its upper chest is more yellowish.

A king penguin balancing an egg on its feet. /VCG Photo

A king penguin balancing an egg on its feet. /VCG Photo

Although king penguins are not as famous as emperor penguins that have been portrayed in many movies and books such as the French documentary "March of the Penguins", their amazing ability to navigate has attracted the attention of scientists around the world. 

Even a 10-month-old king penguin can find its square-meter residence area in the colony.

King penguins walking in snow. /VCG Photo

King penguins walking in snow. /VCG Photo

According to researches, king penguins pay special attention to the features of natural landscapes they pass by, such as lakes and mountains. Visual and acoustic cues also play an important role in their quest. 

A king penguin chick begging for food from a parent in the Falkland Islands. /VCG Photo

A king penguin chick begging for food from a parent in the Falkland Islands. /VCG Photo

King penguins usually live around the Oceanic Islands in sub-Antarctic. They mainly feed on small fish and squid. It's classified as "Least Concern" on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. 

(Cover image via VCG)