Missy loves attention. She’s the younger of the couple: fun loving, confident and brave. Penelope is a year older and loves to swim but is quite shy, preferring to spend her free time keeping herself clean and beautiful, leaving the spotlight to her partner.
This could be any lesbian couple, really, except for the fact that Missy and Penelope are penguins. They live in Dingle Oceanworld, in County Kerry, Ireland, ever since their gentoo penguin colony was moved there three years ago.
It’s not unheard of for penguins to mate in same-sex relationships. The girls hooked up only recently, surprising their keeper, Kate Hall, a little, as it’s more likely for male penguins to pair off. Roy and Silo are a famous couple who lived together for years at New York City’s Central Park Zoo. The American penguins even raised an adopted daughter, Tango, who went on herself to form a same-sex partnership with Tanuzi. This is a first for Ireland, though, and it’s sparked a lot of interest, particularly in light of recent hot debate around marriage equality.
Gentoo penguins have an annual breeding season, when they build nests from rocks and twigs. In an article in the Irish Examiner, Hall, who is the head penguin keeper at Dingle Oceanworld, says Missy and Penelope are displaying all the signs of a courting couple in their purpose-built enclosure, which mimics the icy conditions of the South Pole, to keep the inhabitants comfortable.
“The thing penguins do to show they like each other is they bow to each other, and they are doing that,” Hall says. “When they come into breeding season, they do it to the penguin of their choice, and it reinforces the bond between them.”
Ireland’s first lesbian penguins are among five couples that have paired off in the penguin colony for mating season this year. Roy and Silo have drifted apart in New York, after six years together, but perhaps there’s hope yet for Penelope and Missy to make a good go of things. And it’s nice to note that the union of gay penguins doesn’t seem to have any adverse effect on the surrounding community.