Archive for December, 2010

Why Penguin Wear Tuxedos

December 22, 2010

Those tuxedo-wearing birds that inhabit Earth’s coldest continent may have evolved a means of retaining heat when they were still living in warm climates, scientists now suggest. A key adaptation that helped modern penguins to invade the cold waters of Antarctica within the last 16 million years is the so-called humeral arterial plexus, a network of blood vessels that limits heat loss through the wings. The plexus routes blood coming into the body from the wings past the blood traveling from the body to the wings. As such, the cooler blood from the wings, which get cold in the water, is heated up by warmer blood from the body, thus conserving heat. To find out more about how this anatomical structure evolved, scientists investigated seven live penguin species and 19 fossil ones. In live specimens, they found the plexus leaves behind grooves in the upper arm bone called the humerus. As such, they could see when this structure began appearing in extinct penguin species from the fossil record.  Those tuxedo-wearing birds that inhabit Earth’s coldest continent may have evolved a means of retaining heat when they were still living in warm climates, scientists now suggest. A key adaptation that helped modern penguins to invade the cold waters of Antarctica within the last 16 million years is the so-called humeral arterial plexus, a network of blood vessels that limits heat loss through the wings. The plexus routes blood coming into the body from the wings past the blood traveling from the body to the wings. As such, the cooler blood from the wings, which get cold in the water, is heated up by warmer blood from the body, thus conserving heat.

Palaeeudyptes, one of the "giant" penguins lived during the Oligocene, about 28 million years ago. Bones in this bird and its relatives show clear evidence of a heat-conserving structure known as a humeral arterial plexus. Credit: the Geology Museum, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand.

Surprisingly, they found the plexus arose at least 49 million years ago, when the planet was going through a warm “greenhouse Earth” phase due to vast amounts of global warming gases that got pumped into the atmosphere, perhaps by volcanism. “I began this work thinking we would relate heat retention in penguins to the global cooling that took place at the Eocene-Oligocene boundary [about 34 million years ago], whereas in fact, penguins were cold-water-tolerant millions of years earlier,” researcher Daniel Thomas, a paleontologist at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, told the Penguin Post. The earliest known penguins to feature the plexus lived on the lost continent of Gondwana, on what is now Seymour Island in Antarctica. Back then, the waters there were 59 degrees Fahrenheit (15 degrees Celsius), compared with the water’s current average temperature of 34 degrees F (1 degree C). (Scientists can deduce ancient temperatures by looking at the chemistry of fossils — for instance, magnesium levels in the shells of certain organisms rise as temperatures go up.) The researchers suspect the plexus first evolved to help penguins save energy during long foraging trips in the cold water, as the structure evolved in concert with dramatic skeletal changes that promoted buoyancy and reduced drag, thus improving deep-diving and long-distance swimming. As global climate cooled, the plexus then found a new use, proving key to the penguins’ invasion of Antarctic ice sheets. “Penguins have occupied much of the Southern Hemisphere in the last 40 million years because of their tolerance for cold water,” Thomas said.

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A Personal Perspective of Penguins in South Georgia

December 20, 2010

Posing for their close-ups, these are the penguins who live on the remote island of South Georgia in the South Atlantic. And while pictures of the inhabitants of Britain’s most outlying colony are common – these are possibly the most stunning ever taken. British photographer, Nick Garbutt, became very friendly with his subjects after travelling to witness the massive colony, made up of around a quarter of a million birds. In one image, taken in natural harbour Salisbury Plain, he can be seen directly in front of two king penguins.

In others, they troop to the shore and back to feed their hungry offsprint, while one pair put on a spectacular display of courtship – almost creating a mirror image of each other.The king penguins are shown to be intimate creatures, and greet each other by rubbing their stomachs together and arching their beautiful gold crested necks.

Garbutt, from Cumbria, took a three week voyage on a ship called the Vavilov.  He sailed from Ushuaia in Argentina’s Tierra del Fuego, to the Falklands and from there to the remote island. The voyage also took him to the Yalour Islands and Peterman Island off the Antarctic Peninsula.’There was curiosity on both sides,’ said Nick.

‘I also felt exhilaration from being surrounded by the sounds, smells and sight of such a large mass of birds. ‘It was a really immersive experience.’ Nick was able to take the amazingly intimate shots through careful observation and physical rigour. ‘Birds were constantly moving between the colony and the sea with different individuals and groups were going back and forth. ‘Often when one sets off, others seem to follow and they trudge the same paths as previous birds. ‘Every so often little lines of penguins form as they plod down to the water’s edge. I watched this for a while with several groups, then inched my way in on my belly towards the line they were walking. ‘I was able to approach to within a metre and the penguins just walked by.

‘Sometimes they’d be inquisitive and look at me and occasionally even look at their reflection in the wide-angle lens. ‘It was quite overwhelming to be surrounded by all these birds that were also so bold and confiding as subjects. Nick was also struck by the lonely beauty of the South Georgian landscape – an emerald wilderness thousands of miles away from motherland Britain. ‘The island wildness left me feeling insignificant,’ said Nick. ‘As if I was standing on the edge of existence.’ King Penguin colonies are present all year-round on South Georgia. During winter months the penguins have the beaches to themselves. From early spring, which falls in November, they share the beaches with huge colonies of elephant seals. There are several king penguin colonies on South Georgia. Salisbury Plain is second largest colony on the islands, with over 250,000 birds in total. South Georgia is a British Dependent Island administered from the Falklands.

Some Old Fashion Penguin Viagra?

December 19, 2010

In the Antarctic penguins usually have no problem picking up a partner during the breeding season. But the Penguin Post has learned that at a British zoo the birds have been getting some extra help – a daily dose of cod liver oil which makes them more attractive to the opposite sex.

A Pair Of Friskie Rockhoppers

During the three months of the mating season, each penguin gets one 400mg capsule a day popped in its mouth by a keeper who holds open its bill. The pills, ordered over the internet, cost about 2p a time and help make the birds look better preened. The move has proved so successful that Edinburgh Zoo has now become a world leader at breeding penguins in captivity and has been able to send birds as far away as Japan and New Zealand to enhance conservation programs. The penguins have even become an internet sensation – with thousands of people logging on to watch their playful antics as they currently enjoy snowy weather in Edinburgh to match their natural Antarctic home. The zoo’s vet Romain Pizzi said: ‘The cod liver oil is given to the penguins during the breeding season as it helps to keep their preen gland healthy. ‘The preen gland is used by the birds during grooming and produces an oil to help condition their feathers. A healthy preen gland ensures the penguins are looking good so they attract a mate.’ In the wild, the penguins would have obtained the oil from their natural diet, which includes cod. However, the zoo is bound by marine sustain¬ability guidelines which recommend it feeds the birds blue whiting and hake instead of cod. The liver oil pills are then used as a supplement.

Cod Liver Oil To The Rescue

Scientists have observed that penguins preen their feathers frequently because they must be in prime condition to ensure waterproofing and insulation. They preen with their bills, spreading oil through the feathers which is secreted from a gland near the base of the tail. During the mating season they head for special nesting sites on the shoreline where the males stand with backs arched and wings outstretched. The birds bond by touching necks and slapping each other on the back with their flippers. They usually remain mates for life. Edinburgh has more than 200 penguins – one of the largest captive colonies in the world. It includes 187 gentoos, 19 rockhoppers and ten king penguins. King of all the kings is Sir Nils Olav, the mascot of the Norwegian Army. Edinburgh Zoo spokesman Claire Richardson said: ‘The breeding ¬season starts at the beginning of March, when the keepers place nest rings in the birds’ enclosure. ‘They return to the same nests they used in previous years and usually pair up with the same partner. ‘Very often the keepers find the birds waiting on their nest position before the nest ring has gone down. ‘When the nest rings are in place, the birds start collecting small pebbles to build their nests.

Sir Nils Olav

‘The keepers provide piles of pebbles but the gentoos often prefer to steal likely-looking pebbles from their neighbours’ nests, inevitably causing arguments. ‘The first eggs are laid in April and the eggs hatch after a 35-day incubation. The chicks weigh between 70-100g (3-3.5oz), but very quickly put on weight so that by July they are 5kg (11lb) and ready to wean. ‘At this stage, the adults and chicks engage in “feeding chases’’, where the chicks chase their parents around the nest-site begging for food. This ensures the parents only ever feed their own chick.’ The zoo’s order for 24,000 cod liver oil capsules came as a surprise to Mitesh Soma, of Chemist¬direct.co.uk. The 400mg pills cost £3.88 for 180. ‘I was stunned,’ said Mr Soma. ‘We had never had an order like it before. ‘They are certainly our most unusual customers, but we hope the treatment works through the mating season, and we get another order next year. ‘We’ve now been approached by other zoos to provide supplements for animals.   ‘But I’m not anticipating dental floss orders for crocodiles!’

Penguin Place Loses Its Mascot

December 16, 2010

Last night around 9:30 I heard some very disturbing noises from under my desk.  I peered into the dark space and saw a silhouette of my cat Otis curled up in against the wall.  He was making some not very pleasant sounds, and I knew something was not right. I called for him and there was a little not very Otis-like meow, so I grabbed a penguin flashlight and saw Otis  (who was never sick a day in his life unless you count the time he ate about two feet of ribbon) looking quite distressed.  I crawled under the desk and scooped a near limp Otis up in my arms, placed him on my lap and called the 24 hour animal hospital, got directions and told them I was on the way.   He passed away en-route to the hospital and according to the vet most likely had  the kitty equivalent of a heart attack.  I know everyone says this about their cat, but Otis was not your typical house cat.  He weighed about 25 lbs and was not all that fat.  Just big boned.  We adopted him when he was 4 years old back in 2002 and when I first met Otis I was a more than taken aback upon seeing him.  I’d not had a cat since college and wasn’t sure if I was ready for this big kitty.  He was the biggest cat I had ever seen, and according to his owner (not that anyone could ever own Otis), he enjoyed being help upside down, which when stretched out in that position made him at least  a yard long.  Let’s just say I had second thoughts, but my friends who were giving him to us assured me he was harmless.  As it turned out he was a gentle giant and he loved being around people, especially kids. Whenever I was working in Penguin Place, be it in Brooklyn or here in Northampton, he loved to lounge around the “Igloo” and keep me company.  Whenever an intrepid customer would make the pilgrimage to Penguin Place to shop in person, they would almost always encounter Otis, and over the years I’ve heard in one form or another, in a multitude of languages, “Holy sh*t!  That’s the biggest f&^king cat I’ve ever seen!”  I even once had a cat phobic Japanese man run out the door and down the hall screaming in terror upon meeting Otis.  He refused to come back in until I locked Otis in another room.  But, most Penguin Place customers who stopped by the “igloo” over the years required two things, a picture in front of my old fridge filled with plush penguins, and a picture with Otis.   At about 25 lbs, Otis certainly was a gentle giant, and over the years has taken much playful abuse from both my little girls (Sophie 7 and Rose 3), who have only known our home with Otis as a member of the family.  He will be missed by all who had the pleasure to be allowed to rub his belly, and Penguin Place will never be or smell (yes, his litter box was in the Penguin Place bathroom) the same.

Headless Penguins?

December 15, 2010

There are times when we would all like to literally hide our heads for one reason or another. But, the Penguin Post has learned our impossible dream is a daily reality for these two King Penguins on the South Atlantic island of South Georgia.

Thanks to their double-jointed necks, the ‘headless’ pair can merrily go about their business with optional heads on or heads off so to speak.

When a penguin needs a scratch or two on some hard to reach part of his body, he simply bends his head completely over and attacks the area that is that needs a scratch with his beak. Such dexterity guarantees there is no such thing as a ‘hard-to-reach spot’… and most importantly for us makes for an amusing natural image. The King Penguin is the second largest species of penguin, second only to the Emperor Penguin.

Mainly found in the South Atlantic and the northernmost waters of the northern Antarctic, there are believed to be around 2.23million King Penguins and their numbers are increasing.

LaLa The Japanese Penguin

December 14, 2010

O.K. I’ve written about La La the Japanese domesticated King Penguin more than once over the past 10 years in this blog and the Penguin Post (print and on-line), but given that it’s the holiday season, and it’s one of my favorite domesticated Japanese King Penguin stories of all time, I simply couldn’t help myself to mention LaLa again.  You just can’t talk about La La enough.   If you’ve seen this before, watch it again and enjoy.  But, if you’ve never seen this call in your friends and relatives and prepare to smile big time.  Happy Holidays from LaLa.

Living on Penguin Place

December 14, 2010

Today while processing the 10 days before Christmas order onslaught, one order caught my eye and then some.  There was nothing unusual about this order except for the fact that it was going to a street by the name of Penguin Place in Falls Church, Va.  Yes, people actually live on Penguin Place!    Falls Church is a pricey suburb of D.C. and Penguin Place is a small street (about four blocks long), but what a thrill it must be to live there, and of course it was a thrill to receive a Penguin Place order from the lucky people that reside on Penguin Place.

Penguin Place, Falls Church, Virginia

Penguin Socks Saved Thanks To Rose

December 12, 2010

There are lots of great things about our relocation to Northampton a year and a half ago, and one of the multitude of positive changes is finally having a working buzzer after 10 years of being buzzerless in Brooklyn.   But, sadly it’s only half a buzzer as it can only be heard on the first floor of our two floor walk up, and wouldn’t ya know it, Penguin Place is on the 2nd floor.  Combine that with the fact that I have a new Fed Ex man who doesn’t have my phone number (yet), and I’m spending lots of time working on the 2nd floor these days.  So, taking all this into consideration  the odds are pretty great that this third and final attempt by Fed Ex to deliver my much needed re-supply of penguin socks will probably end up returned to sender.   So, of course it goes without saying that when the buzzer rang at 1 p.m. I didn’t hear it, and if not for the “heroics” my 3 year old daughter Rose the penguin socks would be on their back to the mid-west as I write this.  But for Rose.  Yes, cute little Rose who took time from watching cartoons downstairs to not only acknowledge that the door buzzer was ringing (not an easy thing for a 3 year old watching Looney Tunes), but upon hearing it she paused her video and began shouting., “Daddy, daddy, there’s a man downstairs!”  When I heard her yell, “Daddy there’s a man downstairs,”  My mind raced and I panicked, immediately grabbing a baseball bat and flew down two flights of steps to save Rose and confront “the man downstairs”.   When I found there was no one there but Rose (and Tweety Bird), she immediately told me “Daddy, there’s a man ringing the bell.”  So thinking this must be the Fed Ex guy trying to make the final socks delivery (who else would be ringing my bell), I once again flew downstairs, this time to the street level, where I found the Fed Ex man about to re-board his truck with my box in his arms. Fortunately, I was able to corral him just in time, and thanks to Rose the box is now upstairs in Penguin Place and our penguin sock inventory has been replenished for the final Christmas rush.  There’s even a new Emperor Ankle Sock to show off.  Rose was promptly rewarded with a vanilla ice cream cone with rainbow sprinkles, Bill the new Fed Ex man now has my phone number, and everyone lived happily ever after.

Fraser’s Penguins Review

December 12, 2010

Here’s a link to the N.Y. Times book review of Frazer’s Penguins – A Journey to the Future in Antarctica.

Adelie Penguins struggle to save eggs submerged by snowmelt.

Did Someone Say Chilly Willy Knit Hat?!

December 11, 2010

It may be the middle of December, and we’re all waddling around in fast motion trying to get our orders out our Penguin Place Igloo door, but that doesn’t seem to deter us from continuing to bring in a steady stream of new penguin goodies.  Perhaps we should be sent on a boat to an Antarctic asylum for insane penguin lovers, as this week alone we’ve brought in Penguin Nesting Dolls, Christmas Stockings, Ornaments,  Penguin Umbrella, Knit Penguin Pilot Hats in adults and kids sizes, Boxed Cards,  Pill Boxes, a Penguin Clarinet Player, an Eye Glass Holder, a new Penguin Zibby Plush, a Birthday Penguin Figurine, and even a Penguin Plush Floggle (don’t ask).  That’s 13 new penguin items!  But of course we’ve saved the best for last, as today marked the arrival of my personal favorite item on 2010!   Something I’ve been waiting for since I was a kid.  Something I only dreamed about, but never thought I’d live to see it.  A super cool, knit Chilly Willy Winter Hat, and if you ask my humble opinion, they couldn’t have done a better job as it’s  one of the cutest pieces of penguin apparel ever to be stuck in the gravitational pull of our planet.  Obviously, I’m partial to Chilly Willy.  But, I pity the fool who isn’t.  What’s also very cool about this hat is it’s not wool, but acrylic, and this being 2010, this is not your mom’s acrylic.  Plain and simple, this looks and feels like a knit hat, but it gently stretches and will fit just about anyone just fine.  From my 7 year old daughter to my big headed 75 year old dad (now if I can get a picture with him wearing it that would be something).  Take my word for it.  It’ll fit just about anyone and raise the cute factor on anyone wearing by 75%.