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This may be a strange question, but really it's something I've always wondered.

Recently I was watching a documentary of penguins and how a mother penguin lost its child. Then it went looking for it, and among a horde of penguins, it was able to find it's child and take it.

What really intrigued me is that the penguins looked exactly the same. Animals don't have "as much" distinctive features as we humans do, such as significally different hair color, skin color, they don't really look very different. Rather animals of the same species look very similar.

Just consider the following image: enter image description here

How can one even differentiate between all these penguin children? Even the parents look very similar.

That's just what I'm wondering. How can parents spot their child between all of these penguins that look almost identical.

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    $\begingroup$ It varies a lot from species to species. The question How do animals know who their child is? is too broad, you probably want to ask How do penguins know who their child is? instead. $\endgroup$
    – Remi.b
    Jul 23, 2017 at 14:58
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    $\begingroup$ Well the I am voting to close as the question is too broad as mechanisms vary a lot from species to species. Some would use facial recognition (e.g. sheep), others would use smell, others would not need to recognize as only their offspring stays in the neibourhood, others don't recognize their youngs, most species use some mixture of those cues, etc... $\endgroup$
    – Remi.b
    Jul 23, 2017 at 15:03
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    $\begingroup$ All the penguins appear (and would smell) similar to you. But not to the penguins. $\endgroup$
    – kmm
    Jul 23, 2017 at 15:43
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    $\begingroup$ nature gives them variance so that they recognize very easily what is important to recognize. to know the difference, many tests have been done, using sound proofing, visual screens, and they can probably recognize them by sight or sound, although sound is probably the main recourse because birds have very good ears and variable voices, and it's a 2 way thing, the parents call and the baby replies, it's not random sounds. $\endgroup$ Jul 23, 2017 at 16:09
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    $\begingroup$ @anongoodnurse You are a molecular biologist, a physician, a fan of Shakespeare, probably a parent given your activity on Parenting.SE (or maybe just a pediatrician?) and you're raising a flock of (anus smelling) goats! You sound like an interesting person to be around! $\endgroup$
    – Remi.b
    Jul 23, 2017 at 21:49

2 Answers 2

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Penguins (and many birds) recognize their offspring and mate thanks to vocalizations. It's called individual vocal recognition, it's like when you recognize your friend voice among a group of chatting people. Scientific article references for penguins: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0003347299910862 http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/267/1448/1081.short

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Animals used several ways to tell who their child is, some use sounds, yes, some use spatial cues and THEN sounds to zoom in the individual they want to find, and sometimes they even need to confirm by smell! Good information on Principles of Animal Communication https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0003347218303208 Coding Strategies in Vertebrate Acoustic Communication (Animal Signals and Communication, 7) Part of: Animal Signals and Communication (7 Books) | by Thierry Aubin and Nicolas Mathevon | Mar 29, 2020

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome Renata. Please take our tour and refer to the help center for guidance, you'll find that we need answers. to be supported by references and citations, you can improve your answer by editing those in. $\endgroup$ May 13 at 23:13

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