Polar Biology

, Volume 32, Issue 4, pp 593–597 | Cite as

Stomach stones in king penguin chicks

  • David Beaune
  • Céline Le BohecEmail author
  • Fabrice Lucas
  • Michel Gauthier-Clerc
  • Yvon Le Maho
Original Paper


Many animals that possess a gizzard swallow stones or sandy grit, supposedly to aid in the mechanical breakdown of food. While this has been well documented in the literature, our study is the first to report the presence of stones in the gizzard of king penguin chicks. We found stones, so called ‘gastroliths’, in the pyloric region of the gizzard, the part of the digestive tract that is specialised for the mechanical breakdown of food. Stones were already present in the gizzard of chicks and, hence, during the first year of the life of king penguins, which is spent on land. Some chicks were found to have more than 130 stones (0.5–22 mm in size) in their gizzard. The gastroliths we found in king penguins are of the same geological origin as rocks present at the colony, which suggests that birds swallowed them there. The functional role of gastroliths in penguin chicks and adults is still unknown. We discuss the potential roles that these gastroliths might play in king penguins (i.e. aid in digestion, buoyancy control during foraging at sea, adaptation to fasting).


Gastrolith Grit Seabird Digestion Adaptive behaviour 



This work was supported by the Institut Polaire Français-Paul-Emile Victor (IPEV), by the project Zones Ateliers of the Programme Environnement Vie et Société of the CNRS, and by grants from the French Ministry for Foreign and European Affairs-Lavoisier (to C.L.B.). We are grateful to Manfed Enstipp, Jean-Patrice Robin, Sylvie Geiger, Nicolas Hanuise, Matthieu Guillemain and two anonymous referees for constructive comments on the manuscript. This study was approved by an independent Ethics Committee appointed by the Institut Polaire Français-Paul-Emile Victor.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Beaune
    • 1
  • Céline Le Bohec
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Fabrice Lucas
    • 3
  • Michel Gauthier-Clerc
    • 4
  • Yvon Le Maho
    • 1
  1. 1.Département d’Écologie, Physiologie et Éthologie, Institut Pluridisciplinaire Hubert Curien (IPHC)Centre National de la Recherche ScientifiqueStrasbourg Cedex 02France
  2. 2.Department of Biology, Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Synthesis (CEES)University of OsloBlindernNorway
  3. 3.Ecole et Observatoire des Sciences de la TerreStrasbourgFrance
  4. 4.Centre de Recherche de la Tour du ValatArlesFrance

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