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2.3.3 A Penguin Foraging Simulation Game


  • 1 paper cup per student, for "stomach"
  • spring-type clothespins as "bills"
  • various food items assigned different points based on their energy worth
  • 300 1/2" metal washers (large krill) (worth 10 energy points)
  • 300 M&Ms (small krill) (worth 8 energy points)
  • 300 round toothpicks (Thyanoessa) (worth 5 energy points)
  • 300 marbles (salps) (worth 2 energy points)
  • copy for each students of the "Adelie Breeding Cycle, Diet and Foraging Facts" Blackline Master #13


Display materials for this Activity and tell students that they will be simulating the foraging behavior of penguins. Have them review the Adelie fact sheet, and discuss items which seem most of interest to your class, setting the foraging simulation in its real-world context. Explain that the washers, toothpicks, M&Ms, and marbles represent penguin food items. Then demonstrate the use of the clothespin to represent a penguin's bill! The object of the game is to capture as much "prey" (in the paper cup) as you can within a time limit. The goal is to accumulate 500 points, expending the least energy in the shortest period of time.

Sidebar: Foraging Facts


Many factors contribute to the chick-raising and foraging success of penguins in Antarctica, including:

  • type and abundance of prey available
  • the amount of time a parent has to be gone from the nest
  • suitability of the general area for trying to raise a chick
  • how long it takes to get enough prey to feed a chick


  1. Select an open area such as a playground, park, or gym and randomly distribute the food items over a wide but defined area.
  2. Explain to the students that you are the "top predator", signaling the start and finish of each round of play. As top predator, you may "capture" penguins that are breaking the rules or exhibiting disruptive behavior. Explain to students that in nature, birds that break the rules often have behavior patterns that attract predators.
  3. Give each student a clothespin bill. Explain that food items must be picked up, not (scooped) with the bill and dropped into the paper cup "stomach". As is true in many societies, throwing food items is not allowed!
  4. Give students 5 minutes to forage, or stop the round before the supply is too low, but make a note of the time allowed (adjust time to skill of group).
  5. Count and record the number of food items collected and their energy point equivalents.
  6. Debrief findings in the first round of play. Next, alter conditions as follows:

    How might the results of the game change if unequal numbers of prey are distributed in the foraging area and the time limit is removed?

    What is the expectation if food types are not randomly distributed in the feeding area?

    How would the game change if time were not a variable?

    What might happen if only one prey type was used for the experiment, but half were the same color as the feeding area and half were colored very differently? Would one prey type be chosen more than the other?

    What might happen if other predators enter the foraging area and compete with each other for food?
  7. Repeat the activity, and record the results.
  8. Draw conclusions: what observations can you make about foraging behavior, competition for food, and availability of prey? The amount of food brought back to the chicks is pretty constant, so the major variables are the prey distribution/abundance, and the time spent foraging.

Adapted with permission from the Los Marineros Curriculum Guide, a marine science curriculum available from the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History at 805-682-4711, ext. 311.


Use a globe to show that all 17 species of penguins live south of the equator. One species, the Galapagos penguin, lives on the equator in the path of the cold Peru Current. Seven kinds of penguins visit Antarctica, but only two species, the Adelie and Emperor penguins, breed exclusively on the Antarctic continent.

How are the adult Adelie penguins able to survive while sitting on the nest? (Blubber or body fat is a primary food source.)

globe logocomputer logo

Penguins are the only birds that migrate by swimming. Students can research and map their migration routes, up the west coast of South America to Tetal Point in northern Chile, or up to the east coast of South America past Argentina as far north as Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. Estimate the distances they travel. Using satellite images located on-line, students can match the migratory routes of penguins with the location of currents. What assumptions can they make about migration routes by looking at infrared imagery? (penguins follow cold water currents)

globe logo

Research North America's own "penguins," the flightless Great Auks. Learn how Great Auks were similar to penguins. Find out why they were slaughtered (for food, their feathers, and for stuffed specimens). These birds became extinct in 1844 when two museum collectors landed on a remote island off Iceland, strangled the last surviving pair for their collection and then smashed the last egg.

Suggested URLs

Information on Flightless Birds, Behavior, Breeding, Locomotion, Colonies, Adelies, Emperors, Gentoos, Chinstraps and Crested penguins

Sounds and sights from wildlife sound recordist and NSF Artist-in-Residence, Doug Quin, including penguins, leopard and Weddell seals, and the sounds of glaciers!

The Adelie Penguin Monitoring Program of the Australian Antarctic Division

help NASA Quest NSF order about PTK about LFA footer

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Last Update: 1/18/97
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