A four-month-old Gentoo penguin chick will be “the world’s first penguin to not have its gender assigned,” according to the aquarium where it lives.
Sea Life London announced that the penguin will not be named or characterized as male or female. It is being raised by two female penguins, Rocky and Marama, who have been a “close couple” over the past six breeding seasons.
The egg that hatched the genderless penguin was given to the same-sex couple to relieve the biological mother of the stress of raising two chicks at once.
The aquarium “decided it was more natural for the chick to grow and develop into a mature adult as genderless which is normal in the wild until they mature.” It will have a purple band attached to its wing so aquarium staff can easily identify it.
General Manager Graham McGrath says that gender neutrality in penguins might be new to the world of aquaria, but it’s quite common in the wild.
“Gender neutrality in humans has only recently become a widespread topic of conversation, however, it is completely natural for penguins to develop genderless identities as they grow into mature adults,” he said.
Dr. Gemma Clucas, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, concurs. She told CNN that in penguins the two sexes “look almost identical to one another. Behaviorally, they act very similarly as well, particularly in terms of reproduction — both males and females invest pretty equally in raising their chicks.”
McGrath also said that Sea Life London may incorporate the chick into its breeding program “depending on the gender its biology determines.”
This chick won’t even be the first zoo penguin raised by same-sex parents; two male king penguins adopted an egg at Berlin zoo just last month.