Posts Tagged ‘Penguins’
Did you know that penguins didn’t always boast tuxedo-like black-and-white markings, according to a new study. The discovery of the first ancient penguin fossil with evidence of feathers reveals the aquatic birds were not black and white but were once reddish-brown and gray.
The 36 million-year-old fossil represents one of the largest ancient penguins ever found. The bird would have been 5 feet (1.5 meters) tall, and probably weighed twice as much as modern Emperor penguins, which average about 66 pounds (30 kilograms). Its long, grooved beak suggests that, like modern penguins, it hunted by diving for fish. Imprints of feathers in the rock around the bones could help researchers understand how modern penguin feathers evolved, said Julia Clarke, a paleontologist at The University of Texas at Austin and a co-author of the paper.
The fossil, a new species named Inkayacu paracasensis (or “Water King”), was discovered in the Reserva Nacional de Paracas, a desert preserve on the coast of Peru. Researchers in the field noticed evidence of scaly skin on the fossil foot, prompting suspicion that more evidence of soft tissue might have been preserved. When Clarke examined the specimen in the lab, those suspicions proved true.
“I turned over a flake of rock right near one of the wing elements, and right there was our first evidence of feathering,” she told LiveScience. To find out what color those feathers might have been, the researchers examined the shape of the penguin’s melanosomes. These tiny structures resembling pockets contain pigment cells that help give bird feathers their color. The analysis showed that the ancient feathers were likely reddish-brown and gray.
“The plumage of these animals was in a very different palette of what we see in living penguins today,” Clarke said. While comparing the ancient penguin’s melanosomes to modern birds, the researchers noticed another oddity: Modern penguin melanosomes are different from those of other modern birds. They’re broader and clustered in patterns not seen in other species.
Stranger still, the ancient penguin’s melanosomes didn’t match modern penguins’ and instead looked like the melanosomes of other modern birds. The feathers themselves were shaped and stacked like those of modern penguins, suggesting that the ancient penguin had already evolved to swim. The broad melanosomes, however, must have evolved later, perhaps as a way to make feathers more resistant to the wear and tear of swimming underwater, the researchers wrote in the Sept. 20 online edition of the journal Science. Black-and-white coloring would have evolved later, as camouflage from predators like seals that weren’t yet around when the newly discovered penguin species roamed the seas.
“It’s a quite interesting find, because not only the feather preservation, but also because they found a nearly complete skeleton,” said Gerald Mayr, a paleornithologist at the Senckenberg Museum of National History in Germany, who was not involved in the study. However, Mayr said, the theory that physical forces acted on penguin feathers to change the evolution of melanosomes is contradicted by the fact that half of modern penguin feathers are white and contain no melanosomes, despite being subject to the same hydrodynamic forces as melanosome-rich black feathers.
“The main question certainly is, if not due to hydrodynamic forces, why do penguins have such strange melanosomes?” Mayr said. The new fossil is the first chance researchers have had to ask such questions about how penguin feathers evolved to ‘fly’ not in the air, but underwater, Clarke said. “It’s a pretty major transition to go from aerial flight to aquatic flight, to flying in a medium that’s around 800 times denser than air,” Clarke said, adding: “I think there will be more to the story of this penguin’s feathering.”
The Penguin Post has learned that the Edinburgh Zoo’s new penguin enclosure is set to reopen to the public following a $900,000 revamp. The outdoor pool, called Penguins Rock, offers improved viewing areas for people visiting one of the zoo’s most popular species. For the penguins themselves, the attraction has mock sandy beaches and rocky areas, a waterfall feature, a water shoot and a diving board made out of carved rock. The development also includes a “state-of-the-art” filtration system for the 1.2m litres of water it holds.
Colin Oulton, team leader for birds at the zoo, said: “The new enclosure is a wonderful addition to our visitor attraction and perfect for our penguins. “The birds, both returning and new, have settled in very quickly to the Penguins Rock. “In fact, breeding season will shortly be here and many of our returning birds are already claiming their favorite nesting spots.” Bosses said the existing pool had served the zoo’s large colony of penguins well for more than 20 years but it was starting to need some work behind the scenes, so it made sense to combine it with a visual overhaul.
Darren McGarry, head of living collections, said the animals have been getting used to their refurbished enclosure in recent weeks. “Our penguins have been reintroduced back into their home over the last few weeks, with the 28 gentoos and 27 rockhoppers that remained at Edinburgh Zoo going in first,” he said. “It was a pleasure to see the birds start to interact with the new features of their enclosure – trying out the water slide and sticking their beaks into their new waterfall. The waterfall has actually proved to be a real hit with the gentoo’s. “Next, a week later, came gentoo birds that had been staying in Belfast and Denmark, and there was lots of calling out as birds definitely recognized old friends. “As well as old faces returning, we also welcome a mix of new one and two-year-old gentoos to Edinburgh Zoo as it is important to keep genetic diversity within populations.
“We are really looking forward to see the reactions of our visitors as they see our new enclosure and see our famous black and white birds enjoy all its new features, the mock sandy beach, the clear aqua blue water and creative bird themed interpretation, to name just a few of exciting changes. “However, it is the opportunity to feel so close to the birds due to the new lowered sightlines, and glass barriers and wood perimeters, that we particularly hope people will be thrilled with.” The new enclosure opens to the public on Thursday.
The Penguin Post has learned that a team of European penguin researchers have found some unexpected results when they turned infrared heat sensing cameras on a group of emperor penguins they were studying.The outer layer of the birds feathers, they found, was actually colder than the surrounding air. While it goes against common sense, keeping their outermost layers ice-cold may actually help penguins stay warm deeper inside — where it counts.
Researchers from the Universite de Strasbourg in France and other institutions snapped thermal pictures of hundreds of penguins who had left the protection of the giant huddles that keep them warm, presumably because they found themselves seated next to someone who wouldn’t shut up about their startup. When they abandoned the huddles, researchers were surprised to find the penguins temperature dropped to below that of the surrounding air — which, when you’re in Antarctica, is already very, very low indeed.
The outer layers of the penguins feathers generally registered four to six degrees Celsius lower than the air around them. Since their outer layer is colder than the air around them courtesy of what researchers described as “extreme radiative cooling,” the birds can actually draw a little bit of warmth from the sub-zero environment. It’s not much warmth, say researchers, and much of it is probably lost when it passes through the skin, which is not a great conductor of heat. When you’re a penguin, though, every little bit of heat counts.
The team also found that some parts of the penguin’s body did manage to remain warm. That includes their eyes, which are surrounded by specialized rings of blood vessels that keep them warm — and result in the bird’s eyes glowing bright red in infrared photos, making it look like some strange, squat, Technicolor demon.
The Penguin Post has learned that in Japan at the Sunshine Aquarium—located atop an entertainment complex in the Ikebukuro district of Tokyo—penguins can fly. Well sort of, as the aquarium features a unique ring-shaped see-through tank perched seven-and-a-half feet over guests that lets them watch the facility’s seal population swim laps.
But, this summer the aquarium added penguins to the exhibit, and every evening the usually waddling, flightless birds are given exclusive access to the Aqua Ring which gives them a small taste of what it might be like to fly for the penguins and visitors alike. During their nightly excursion in the circular tank the seals are kept at bay given they’re one of the penguin’s natural predators. And because having an up-close view of what might happen should a penguin and seal meet might not be particularly enjoyable for the guests or the penguins for that matter.
Come celebrate with the Peruvian penguins at the Aquarium of Niagara from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday in Niagara Falls, N.Y. Everyone’s favorite flightless birds are among the aquarium’s most popular residents and this weekend you can participate in a penguin “meet and greet” encounter. Of course, they will be dressed formally for the occasion, but aquarium guests can dress casually. Experienced exhibit department staff members will answer all questions about these fun and fascinating birdsduring regular penguin encounters in the second floor community room. “Beaker,” the aquarium’s penguin mascot, will also be on hand. Challenge your penguin knowledge by participating in the annual trivia contest with a “plethora of penguin prizes” for the winner. Children can make and take a penguin craft, visit the “Sea N Do” Shack and learn more about penguin conservation while exploring a research field station. There will be penguin gifts, including original penguin art, available for purchase. Adopt-a-Penguin certificates can be purchased by anyone wishing to sponsor an Aquarium penguin for one year. The aquarium’s regular schedule of California sea lion demonstrations and harbor seal feedings will continue as usual throughout the weekend. Penguin encounters are included in regular admission of $10 for adults, $6 for children, and free for 2 and under. Members are free. Admission to penguin encounters will be determined by availability of tickets and space.
It goes without saying that even penguins are affected by the climate change that takes place out there. Due to global warming around the world, their natural environment is affected. Those species that live in the extremely cold regions depend on the ice because it is what they walk on. When it is melting at fast rates it completely changes their natural environment. At the same time it can make them vulnerable to predators that they were protected from in the past due to the thick sheets of ice. Scientists believe that half of the population of penguins in the Antarctic region has been depleted in the last 50 years due to the climate change. It is the species known as the Emperor Penguins that have seen the largest losses. This is due to the warming trends continuing for several years. There is plenty of change that takes place over that span of time, and most of it isn’t positive when it comes to the natural habitat of the penguins.You also need to remember that these penguins trek over miles and miles of frozen ice to be able to get to their breeding grounds. When those sheets of ice are melting though this is more of a difficult process. As a result it can prevent penguins from reaching those breeding grounds in time. Therefore the number of females that successfully create eggs with offspring in them is reduced as well. It may surprise you that some penguins have to worry about sunburn. They live in warmer climates where it is possible for them to become too hot. Some of them need to cover their feet with their flippers while on land to prevent them from being sunburned. Others have to continually attempt to cool their bodies due to the excessive heat. The young are very vulnerable too because they are born with no feathers or very few of them so the rays from the sun can easily penetrate to their skin. These penguins in the warmer areas may spend more of their time in the water to be able to cool off. This can make them more likely to be eaten by predators though because they are in the water for extended lengths of time. They also use plenty of energy to swim around so they will then have to hunt for more food in the water to maintain their needs. While there is research to indicate many species of penguins are making changes so they can adapt to the climate change, the rate of the change may be too fast to allow the penguins to adapt, and besides it doesn’t mean we should allow it to continue. They are doing what they must in order to survive. Yet these changes can easily upset their natural balance of things. As a result there is an increased risk of adults dying as well as their offspring not making it to maturity. In some species of penguins, such stressful changes result in them not participating in reproduction at all. What the future holds for the penguins out there depends on our efforts. Too many people don’t see global warming and climate change as something they need to be concerned about. However, with the education about such issues it is hopeful that more people will take a firm stand to make changes for themselves and for future generations. We all need to be aware of global warming concerns and how they affect the world around us. The penguins are just one more element in our world that is adversely affected by it. That is why we all need to take responsibility for what we contribute to our environment. By taking steps individually to reduce global warming, we can create a collective effort that is going to make a difference.
“Is anyone here allergic to penguins?” the captain of Delta Flight 486 from Atlanta to New York asked passengers on Wednesday night. “No? Alright, we have a surprise for you.” “How would we even know if we were?” said the woman seated in seat 33D. “He can’t be serious,” she said, pausing briefly as she flipped through her copy of Sky Mall. But sure enough, after the plane reached a cruising altitude of 30,000 feet and the seat-belt sign was turned off, a pair of penguins waddled down the aisle from first class. “You can take pictures, but we ask that you don’t touch them,” the captain announced. As told to the Penguin Post the flight’s 300-plus delighted passengers heeded the warning, snapping photos and videos with camera phones lighting the aisle as if it were a red carpet. The foot-and-a-half tall penguins, Pete and Penny, ages 6 and 12, were en route to the New York premiere of “Frozen Planet,” a new Discovery Channel documentary series narrated by Alec Baldwin. The screening, held Thursday at the Lincoln Center, was followed by a “polar-themed” party, hosted by Baldwin, Dustin Hoffman and Glenn Close, among other environmentally-conscious luminaries. Oddly enough, this is not the first time penguins were allowed to roam the cabin on a commercial flight. In fact, it happens fairly frequently, judging by videos uploaded to YouTube. Just last month, three penguins on Southwest’s Orlando-to-La Guardia trek emerged from their kennels mid-flight, surprising passengers. Last March, two world-traveling waddlers from Sea World made an appearance on a Southwest flight to San Diego from San Francisco, where they attended a science convention.
Just in time for Penguin Awareness Day is the arrival at Penguin Place of what may be the definitive all-penguin publication of this generation. Penguin-Pedia, a 312 page hardcover homage to penguins and everything penguins. Written by David Salomon, a real estate developer from Dallas, TX, who spent 2 summers traveling the southern hemisphere to photograph all 17 species of penguin. Mr. Salomon’s goal in writing Penguin-Pedia was to increase penguin interest and awareness by creating the most comprehensive penguin book to date, while also making it enjoyable to look at and easy to read. It covers all extant species, each with its own chapter broken up into 16 different sections that focus on individual aspects of that species’ life, along with charts of specific information on each species’ diet, calendar, measurements and other numeric data. To encourage penguin fans to go see penguins for themselves, Mr. Salomon has included a section called “Where to Find a Penguin,” which contains both a list of penguin colonies in the wild and a list of zoo and aquarium exhibits around the world. All photographs in the book are Mr. Salomon’s own, and there are even a dozen trip suggestions to locations such as South Africa , The Galapagos Islands, and The Falkland Islands. Penguin-Pedia. What the penguin loving world has been looking for.