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Penguins Don’t Know What to Do About Their Millennial Children, Either

So, like humans, they reluctantly give in

Millennials are known to mooch off their parents well into adulthood.

According to a 2016 survey commissioned by the Society of Grownups, a financial literacy group, one in three adults ages 21 to 45 still receives financial help from his or her parents, whether it’s to cover the costs of a cell phone bill, food, child care, car insurance or gym memberships.

Another survey from USA Today found that more than 30 percent of willing parents justified assisting their adult children because “they really needed help” and nearly the same amount said they “felt it was their parental responsibility.”

Apparently that’s exactly how the parents of equatorial penguins feel.

University of Washington biology professor Dee Boersma recently returned from the Galápagos Islands, where she found that grown-up Galápagos penguins never stop begging their parents for food, and penguin moms and dads never stop obliging. For instance, she describes witnessing fledgling penguins — those who’ve recently left the nest — walking up to adults they recognize, asking for food, and getting a healthy helping of regurgitated chow in return. (It’s, of course, how most birds feed their young.)

A Gentoo penguin feeding its chick (the only other species that feed the chick after it leaves the nest)

“It took me 45 years to see this, but I saw it five different times,” Boersma tells me, explaining she just happened to be in the right place at the right time. “In the video I took, the male is hesitant, but then he feeds the penguin, who returns for more. This time, though, the adult refuses and jumps into the water.”

Boersma says she presumes the older penguin was the parent since she witnessed this around known nesting sites. “It only occurs shortly after the fledglings leave the nest for a few weeks. If you’re looking to hit up Mom and Dad for money, you’d likely go to where they lived. The penguins do the same and return to where they were raised, hoping to run into their parents.”

Considered an endangered species, Galápagos penguins are only the second penguin species — after Gentoo penguins — to demonstrate post-fledging parental care. And Boersma doesn’t expect to find more. She’s been studying this species for nearly half a century and says the behavior is likely an adaptation to the constant fluctuating availability of food in the archipelago they call home.

“Feeding chicks after they’ve fledged is one of the best things adults can do to enhance the chances of their young to survive.”

They really need help, the penguins probably think to themselves.

It’s my responsibility as a parent.