Primorsky Aquarium is the only place in Russia to determine sex of Humboldt penguins

Primorsky Aquarium is the only place in Russia to determine sex of Humboldt penguins

The Primorsky Aquarium has hatched one more group of penguin chicks. It is the only institution in Russia that can determine the sex of penguins by molecular methods. Keepers from the Ornithology Department told us about hatching in penguins and about the process of sex identification.


Parents brood eggs for 38 to 45 days depending on when they started and what was the initial temperature. The chick makes out of the egg for 2 to 3 days. Our baby penguins weigh about 80 grams after hatching, which is normal,” said Vladislava Kreschenovskaya, Principal Specialist of the Ornithology Department.


As Miroslava Sabutskaya, Lead Specialist of the Ornithology Department, informed us, females and males in penguins generally have the same coloration of plumage, thus making it very difficult to discriminate genders. Males are usually larger, but this morphological character is too vague to successfully determine sex. One of the most accurate methods of sexing in birds is a DNA-based molecular method, a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) using a specific primer set to amplify a section of the CHD1 gene. DNA is extracted from so-called buccal swabs, or buccal smears, which are samples of cells from the inside of a bird's cheek. As the keeper added, such methods allow determining sex in both adult and young birds, which is hardly possible using external characteristics in species with males and females looking similar, like Humboldt penguins.


“I learned basic DNA-based techniques of sexing at the Laboratory of Pharmacology of the NSCMB FEB RAS at the end of last year. The Primorsky Aquarium has now become the first institution in Russia to accurately determine gender in penguin chicks. Our chicks have all been sexed now,” said Miroslava Sabutskaya.


It should be noted that members of the Ornithology Department of the Primorsky Aquarium participate in a range of research on Humboldt penguins and give talks on penguin husbandry and breeding at scientific conferences. They are going to create genetic passports for all the birds and to carry on other genetic studies.


Humboldt penguins came to the Aquarium in 2018. Their number has significantly increased, from 14 to 22 birds, since that time.