The Penguin Post has learned that New Zealand was once home to the tallest penguin species ever known — a lanky, plump bird that stood as high as 4.2 feet (1.3 meters). The penguin, dubbed Kairuku grebneffi, lived about 27 million years ago in a penguin paradise. More of New Zealand was underwater at the time, with only today’s mountaintops emerging from the sea. That made for excellent coastal nesting for a number of penguin species. The new fossil specimens were found beginning in the 1970s, and researchers have continued to turn up bones from the animals as recently as two months ago, said study researcher and North Carolina State University paleontologist Daniel Ksepka. The find expands the known diversity of ancient New Zealand penguins, Ksepka told LiveScience. “In the past we would have thought there were one or two species living in the area,” he said. “Now we know there were five.” Ksepka and his colleagues described Kairuku grebneffi and a second species, Kairuku waitaki, today (Feb. 27) in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. K. grebneffi had unusually long flippers and a slim build, though its legs and feet were as short and stumpy as those of penguins today. Today, penguins tend to cluster in species-specific habitats, with little overlap. Humboldt penguins dominate coastal Peru, for example, while Magellanic penguins are the main species found in Argentina. But researchers are finding that a variety of species lived side-by-side in ancient New Zealand. Ksepka and his colleagues are using these ancient penguins to study everything from brain evolution to how the animals regulate their temperatures in frigid waters. “Penguins are so interesting,” Ksepka said. “They’re so different than other birds that there’s a lot we can do in the fossil record to try to understand how they became what they are.”
Archive for February, 2012
It’s been a couple of weeks since the brass at Penguin Place returned from the N.Y. Toy and Gift Show triumphant with lots of new penguin products ordered, and this past week we’ve had a mini avalanche of new penguins waddling in. From plush, to toys, nightlights, bath gels, wrapping paper, greeting cards, earrings, key chains, bottle stoppers, i-phone skins, purses, mugs, lip balm, picture frames, you name it. All penguins, all cute and believe it or not more are on the way.
As we waddle into March it seems that Penguin Place still has a few dozen of each style of 2012 Penguin Nature Calendars left in stock. But, as we’re more than a couple of months into the new year our calendar sales (even at 75% off) have dwindled down to a trickle. As it seems like a waste to allow all these calendars to go to waste, we’ve come up with a novel give-away idea to help find these penguin calendars a good home, so from now until we run out we’re giving away a free mini penguin calendar with all orders over $30.
The Penguin Post has learned that participants in this year’s Penguin Plunge broke a fundraising record, raising more than $61,000 for Connecticut Special Olympics, organizers said Saturday. The Penguin Plunge is hosted by the Polish Falcons Nest No. 519 on the shore of Crystal Lake, where the 254 participants took the plunge for the cause Saturday. Last year, 235 penguins took the plunge and raised $50,000. “It’s not as bad as I thought it would be. I’d do it again,” said Gail Petras, Middletown animal control officer, who took the plunge with three other animal control officers, six Middletown police officers and friends and family. This year’s event was only the “second or third” where the lake was clear of ice and the beach clear of snow, according to Marc Mercadante, eastern regional director of the Special Oympics. “Last year we had mounds of snow and 13 inches of ice,” he said. “This is only our second or third event with open water.” Not very penguin-like if you ask us.
These days with more and more people waiting to tie the knot until after they’ve had a child my daughter Sophie has come up with a novel idea to provide a penguin service that reflects this growing trend, coming up with a three penguin wedding cake topper. Yes, a penguin cake topper that includes not just a flightless bride and groom, but a penguin baby as well, and I for one call it nothing short of inspired genius. As we produce our own penguin cake toppers here at Penguin Place it was easy enough for me to simply add a penguin chick to the pedestal, but honestly the idea for a “baby makes three” wedding cake topper never occurred to me. Then, the other day while Sophie was helping me re-stock a new shipment of Hagen Rennaker ceramic papa, momma and baby penguin figurines, she placed the trio on an empty wedding cake topper exactly as they are configured in the picture below and eureka! “How did you think of this?” I asked her. She then told me that her friend Frida was the flower girl at her own parents wedding four years ago, and that if Frida’s parents liked penguins this would have made the perfect cake topper for them. “It certainly would.” I replied with a smile, then out came the super glue, followed five minutes later by my digital camera. Unfortunately, for penguin loving couples getting hitched with more than one kid (chick) there’s really not much more room for additional chicks, so it looks like “and baby makes three” is the limit for this topper. So, cheers to you Sophie for an inspired penguin idea.
The Penguin Post has learned that somewhere in suburban Philadelphia a 5-foot tall statue of a mother penguin feeding her chick is missing, and the man who carved the work is seeking the public’s help in getting it back. “Maybe it’s on the side of the road somewhere,” said Haycock artist Ron Bevilacqua. “I really would like to find the piece.” Bevilacqua said he discovered the statue missing Saturday morning from the sculpture garden at his Thatcher Hill studio. The piece weighs more than 150 pounds, and Bevilacqua thinks that whoever took it, wasn’t alone. The artist said he believes the statue was dragged or carried 50 feet down the driveway and loaded onto a vehicle. “There had to be more than one person involved,” he said. State police are investigating the theft, and Bevilacqua said he sent fliers describing the statue to the Richland and Quakertown, Pa police departments. The sculpture, which is valued at $1,000, was recently shown at the Buckingham Valley Winery annual outdoor sculpture exhibit. The artist is offering a reward for its recovery.
The Penguin Post has learned that King Penguins on the sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island are showing healthy levels of genetic diversity after coming back from the brink of extinction. This is positive news for the penguins as genetic variability is important for the long-term health and survival of a species because it helps a population to adapt when faced with environmental changes or diseases. King Penguins were decimated by humans during the 1800s, but due to conservation efforts they are now thriving on Macquarie Island, which is located in the Southern Ocean between Australia and Antarctica. “The conservation program has been particularly successful in getting the population back to its natural size and genetic diversity,” said lead author and evolutionary biologist Tim Heupink from Griffith University in Queensland of a study published in Biology Letters today.
Penguins hunted for blubber oil At around 90 cm tall, King Penguins are the second largest penguins in the world (Emperor penguins are the biggest). Thousands lived on Macquarie Island until humans arrived in 1810 and began hunting them for their blubber oil. After years of human exploitation, the penguin population was reduced to a single, very small colony, and several conservation measures were introduced to aid their recovery. Macquarie Island was declared a wildlife sanctuary in 1933 and given World Heritage status in 1997. Fishing was also controlled, and pests, such as cats, were eradicated. This allowed the penguins to flourish once again. Their population increased and they recolonised previous breeding sites, expanding their range over the island.
The bottleneck effect Populations that have been reduced to a very small size can suffer from the ‘bottleneck effect’. This happens when the few surviving individuals represent a small genetic sample of the population, and the variability of the gene pool is reduced and may remain so even when numbers increase again. But genetic analyses in this study found that this has not occurred in the Macquarie Island King Penguins. Heupink’s team extracted DNA from the penguins currently on the island and also from the bones of 1,000-year-old King Penguin fossils. They used sequencing machines to assess the amount of variability within the DNA pieces and then compared the modern and ancient penguin samples.
Bouncing back from the brink The team found that the genetic diversity for the ancient and current populations of King Penguins was approximately the same. This outcome is unique, as similar ancient DNA studies of threatened animals have shown the opposite result, explaining why species often do not recover after a sharp population decline. “The genetic diversity of King Penguins is now the same as it used to be 1,000 years ago. This means that the population is healthy and adaptable to future changes,” said Heupink. Craig Miller, an evolutionary geneticist at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, commented on the findings. “Despite the Macquarie Island populations of King Penguins being driven to the brink of extinction, they have recovered their pre-exploitation levels of genetic variation in a relatively short period. This is likely to be due to that fact that the population, although significantly reduced in size, did not stay in the ‘bottleneck’ for a long period of time,” he said. Once the island became a wildlife sanctuary, the penguin population was able to grow rapidly, which increased the chances of retaining a variety of genetic traits, including the rare ones. Strong population growth also decreased the likelihood of inbreeding. “The study shows that if managed correctly, even populations close to extinction can recover quickly, both in terms of their numbers and levels of genetic variation,” said Miller.
Dorothy had her ruby red slippers, Cinderella’s were made of glass, and now one local penguin is “Lucky” to have a special shoe of his own. That’s because the 1-year-old Lucky, a penguin at the Santa Barbara Zoo, had one leg that wasn’t growing right. Zookeepers became aware of the problem when they noticed Lucky walking with a limp. They tried a splint at first, but the temporary fix prevented a pretty important aspect of any penguin’s life. “That meant he couldn’t learn to swim,” said Zookeeper Rachel Miller. “He couldn’t be a normal penguin.”
The problem affected his chances for survival. So the zoo contacted local shoe company Teva, which designed Lucky the most helpful shoe possible. But not without challenges, of course. “We had to make sure that he could get up and down these rocks with traction on uneven surfaces,” said Stuart Jenkins, Teva vice president of business development . “When the right boot got there, it was glory hallelujah.” All of a sudden Lucky became just like all the other penguins, swimming normally with the rest of them, but Miller said there’s more to it than just Lucky being able to go for a dip. “It really took a community to make this happen,” Miller said. “It saved the birds life.”
It’s a boy. And the Penguin Posthas learned Humboldt penguin chick has a name after a contest that drew international attention to an upstate New York zoo. The Rosamond Gifford Zoo in Syracuse says ‘Alberto’ topped the online voting for 10 finalist boy and girl names before the chick’s gender was determined. The zoo says Friday about 1,100 suggestions came from 21 countries, 38 states and the District of Columbia. Spanish names got preference in choosing the finalists because the birds breed off Peru and Chile. Alberto hatched Jan. 9, the 30th Humboldt born since a breeding program started in 2005. Zoo officials said 2,040 votes were cast. “Alberto” received 264 of the 998 votes cast for a boy’s name, said Lorrell Walter, speaking for the zoo.
He’s the first of six this year. Kristy Lee Witt of North Syracuse had the winning entry, which means “noble and bright.” Her son Albert was born Feb. 1.
The Penguin Post has learned that a pair of baby penguins rejected by their mothers are being hand-reared by keepers – using soft toys and bird noises to stop them being lonely. The fluffy duo cuddle up to their surrogate pals while listening to penguin noises piped into their pen at Living Coasts in Torquay, U.K. One of the African penguin chicks was half the size of its siblings when it was born in December, while the other was abandoned by its mother before it hatched last month. In the wild, groups of young penguins are often kept together for warmth and safety in a crèche. Staff at the park bought a couple of $5.00 toys from the gift shop to act as surrogate siblings and replicate the effect. Workers also started playing penguin noises to the chicks because it will help them to slowly reintegrate with their colony. Spokesman Stuart Wright said: “Putting the penguin cuddly toys in there gives them something to react with and nestle up against. In the burrows of the nest they would be closed in, the parents sit on them to keep them warm and it just adds that extra factor to cuddle up to under the heat lamp.“They are being taken out for brief periods each day to interact with the birds out there.” The younger chick is being fed liquidised herring and sprat every three hours, while the older one has now advanced to whole sprats.