Posts Tagged ‘Emperor’

It Appears Penguins Have No Taste

February 20, 2015

PENGUINS are among the world’s most dedicated seafood eaters. But they can’t taste fish, biologists have discovered. The Penguin Post has learned that Chinese and American researchers have found that the flightless birds have only two of the five basic tastes — salty and sour — after losing the capacity to detect sweet, bitter and “umami” or savoury flavours.

Jianzhi Zhang, a genomic evolutionist at the University of Michigan, said the results were surprising. “Penguins eat fish, so you would guess they need the umami receptor genes,” he said. The discovery, revealed in the journal Current Biology, adds to the taste limitations known to bedevil some of the world’s most loved and loathed creatures. “Whales and dolphins have lost all tastes except salty,” Professor Zhang told The Australian. “Vampire bats have lost sweet and umami tastes.”

Adelie penguins and their water-going cousins can’t taste their prey’s fishy flavour, scientists have found.

Adelie penguins and their water-going cousins can’t taste their prey’s fishy flavor, scientists have found.

Birds also lack receptors for sweet flavors, even though many eat fruit and nectar. Scientists believe birds lost the T1R2 gene — which is crucial for tasting sugar — sometime during or after their evolution from meat-eating dinosaurs. The latest study found that receptors for detecting bitter and savory tastes were also missing from the genomes of Adelie and emperor penguins. Subsequent research revealed the other 15 penguin species also lacked these genes.

The researchers believe another key gene, known as TRPM5, may have effectively been frozen out of the genome of living penguins’ most recent common ancestor during an evolutionary stint in Antarctica. TRPM5 is “temperature-sensitive” and doesn’t function properly when things “get really cold”, the journal reported. While some penguins now inhabit warmer latitudes, all penguin species trace their roots to the frozen continent. But the study has raised a chicken-and-egg question, with the researchers unsure if penguins swallow fish whole because they can’t taste them, or vice-versa. Anatomical studies have found that penguins’ tongues are covered by a thick layer rather than taste buds, suggesting they’re used to catch food rather than taste it. “Their tongue structure and function suggest that penguins need no taste perception,” Professor Zhang said. “It is unclear whether these traits are a cause or a consequence of major taste loss.

Prehistoric Penguin Population Roller Coaster Ride

September 18, 2014

The Penguin Post has learned that a recent study of how penguin populations have changed over the last 30,000 years has shown that between the last ice age and up to around 1,000 years ago penguin populations benefitted from climate warming and retreating ice. This suggests that recent declines in penguins may be because ice is now retreating too far or too fast.


An international team, led by scientists from the Universities of Southampton and Oxford, has used a genetic technique to estimate when current genetic diversity arose in penguins and to recreate past population sizes. Looking at the 30,000 years before human activity impacted the climate, as Antarctica gradually warmed, they found that three species of penguin; Chinstrap, Adélie and southern populations of Gentoo penguins increased in numbers. In contrast, Gentoo penguins on the Falkland Islands were relatively stable, as they were not affected by large changes in ice extent.

A report of the research is published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Lead author of the paper, Gemma Clucas, from Ocean and Earth Sciences at the University of Southampton comments: “Whereas we typically think of penguins as relying on ice, this research shows that during the last ice age there was probably too much ice around Antarctica to support the large populations we see today. The penguins we studied need ice-free ground to breed on and they need to be able to access the ocean to feed. The extensive ice-sheets and sea ice around Antarctica would have made it inhospitable for them.


“What is particularly interesting is that after the ice age, all of these penguin populations were climate change ‘winners’, that is to say the warming climate allowed them to expand and increase in number. However, this is not the pattern we’re seeing today. Adélie and Chinstrap penguins appear to be declining due to climate change around the Antarctic Peninsula, so they’ve become ‘losers’. Only the Gentoo penguin has continued to be a ‘winner’ and is expanding its range southward.”

Dr Tom Hart of the University of Oxford’s Department of Zoology, an author of the paper, continues: “We are not saying that today’s warming climate is good for penguins, in fact the current decline of some penguin species suggests that the warming climate has gone too far for most penguins.
“What we have found is that over the last 30,000 years different penguin species have responded very differently to a gradually warming world, not something we might expect given the damage current rapid warming seems to be doing to penguins’ prospects.”

To estimate changes in penguin genetic diversity, the researchers collected feathers and blood samples from 537 penguins in colonies around the Antarctic Peninsula. The scientists then sequenced a region of mitochondrial DNA that evolves relatively quickly. Using the rate of mutation of this region of DNA as a calibration point, the researchers were able to chart how the size of these populations has varied over time. The team working on the project included scientists from the British Antarctic Survey and also US scientists from Oceanites Inc, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and the University of North Carolina, Wilmington.

“During the last ice age Antarctica was encircled by 100 per cent more winter sea ice than today,” says Dr Tom Hart. “As ice retreated, these penguins had access to more breeding sites and more open ocean to feed.”

Penguin Fun Facts

April 26, 2014

In honor of World Penguin Day today—and just because they’re just so darn cute—we decided to round up some fun facts that you may not know about everyone’s favorite flightless bird.  Penguins!

1. All 17 species of penguins are naturally found exclusively in the Southern Hemisphere.



2. Emperor Penguins are the tallest species, standing nearly 4 feet tall. The smallest is the Little Blue Penguin, which is only about 16 inches.



3. The fastest species is the Gentoo Penguin, which can reach swimming speeds up to 22 mph.



4. Penguins’ striking coloring is a matter of camouflage; from above, their black backs blend into the murky depths of the ocean. From below, their white bellies are hidden against the bright surface.



5. Fossils place the earliest penguin relative at some 60 million years ago, meaning an ancestor of the birds we see today survived the mass extinction of the dinosaurs.



6. Penguins ingest a lot of seawater while hunting for fish, but a special gland behind their eyes—the supraorbital gland—filters out the saltwater from their blood stream. Penguins excrete it through their beaks, or by sneezing.



7. Unlike most birds—which lose and replace a few feathers at a time—penguins molt all at once, spending two or three weeks land-bound as they undergo what is called the catastrophic molt.



8. All but two species of penguins breed in large colonies of up to a thousand birds.



9. It varies by species, but many penguins will mate with the same member of the opposite sex season after season.



10. Similarly, most species are also loyal to their exact nesting site, often returning to the same rookery in which they were born.



11. Some species create nests for their eggs out of pebbles and loose feathers. Emperor Penguins are an exception: They incubate a single egg each breeding season on the top of their feet. Under a loose fold of skin is a featherless area with a concentration of blood vessels that keeps the egg warm.



12. In some species, it is the male penguin which incubates the eggs while females leave to hunt for weeks at a time. Because of this, pudgy males—with enough fat storage to survive weeks without eating—are most desirable.



13. Penguin parents—both male and female—care for their young for several months until the chicks are strong enough to hunt for food on their own.



14. If a female Emperor Penguin’s baby dies, she will often “kidnap” an unrelated chick—but rather than raise it as her own, she soon abandons the stolen chick.



15. Despite their lack of visible ears, penguins have excellent hearing and rely on distinct calls to identify their mates when returning to the crowded breeding grounds.



16. The first published account of penguins comes from Antonio Pigafetta, who was aboard for Ferdinand Magellan’s first circumnavigation of the earth in 1520 when the animals were caught near what was probably Punta Tombo in Argentina. (He called them “geese.”)



17. An earlier, anonymous diary entry from Vasco da Gama’s 1497 voyage around Cape Horn makes mention of flightless birds as large as ducks.



18. Penguins evolved to stay in the Southern Hemisphere because there are no land predators, like wolves or polar bears, to take make quick work of the plump flightless prey.



19. Because they aren’t used to danger from animals on solid ground, wild penguins exhibit no particular fear of human tourists.



20. Unlike most sea mammals—which rely on blubber to stay warm—penguins survive because their feathers trap a layer of warm air next to the skin that serves as insulation, especially when they start generating muscular heat by swimming around.



21. In the 16th century, the word penguin actually referred to Great Auks (scientific name: Pinguinus impennis), a now-extinct species that inhabited the seas around eastern Canada. When explorers traveled to the Southern Hemisphere, they saw black and white birds that resembled Auks, and called them penguins.




January 20, 2012

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.

Penguin Donations Waddling In

July 8, 2011

The Penguin Post is happy to report that the money for Happy Feet’s $10,000 food bill was raised in under 24 hours!  Despite footing the tab for half that amount New Zealand philanthropist Gareth Morgan doesn’t mind keeping his wallet open for the world’s favorite penguin.  The high-profile Wellington businessman said last week he would match donations to Wellington Zoo’s Happy Feet fund dollar for dollar and has already donated more than $5000. The money received so far is enough to keep the emperor penguin fed on high-quality salmon for two months. “It’s a bloody expensive bird, I can tell you that much,” Dr Morgan said. “But I don’t mind really because any surplus is being used to start saving for his transport costs and paying for additional staff.” Happy Feet has captured the nation’s attention after arriving on Peka Peka Beach two weeks ago – the first emperor penguin to swim here from Antarctica for 44 years. Dr Morgan met the penguin at the weekend after the fourth operation to clear sand from its stomach. The way the country had come to the bird’s aid showed how far New Zealand had come, he said. “When the first penguin turned up in `67 there was hardly any brouhaha about it. But back then there was no internet or instant, up to the second reporting. This time around everyone is so dedicated to seeing the bird recover – it really shows how much more people understand about this kind of thing.” The Penguin Advisory Committee is still working out how Happy Feet will be returned to Antarctic waters. “There aren’t any confirmed plans at this stage,” committee member Peter Simpson said. “We are still gathering information on potential release sites, as well as working out how to transport the penguin from Wellington down to Bluff.” Mr Simpson, the Conservation Department’s committee representative, expected it to take another month before plans were concrete. “It’s important that the penguin is properly fattened up for the trip. “He needs to be completely ready to make the long swim home.” A tracking device will be placed on him, but there are no plans to intervene if Happy Feet strays off course. “It’ll be up to him at that stage – whatever it does is whatever it does.”

Happy Feet Faces A Long Swim, But Not Long Odds

June 30, 2011

Now that he’s / she’s (no one is sure yet) on the mend, New Zealand wildlife officials have been trying to figure out how the penguin known to the world as Happy feet will return home.  They don’t want HF to stay indefinitely at the zoo and have initially dismissed the idea of transporting it to Antarctica because of logistical difficulties, and the fear that it could transmit infections picked up during its New Zealand “vacation” to other penguins.  As reported to the Penguin Post on Wednesday, an advisory group headed by the NZ Department of Conservation decided officials will help the penguin get part of the way home by releasing it into the Southern Ocean, southeast of New Zealand – pointing it in the right direction and letting it swim the rest of the way.

“The reason for not returning the penguin directly to Antarctica is that emperor penguins of this age are usually found north of Antarctica on pack ice and in the open ocean,” the department’s biodiversity spokesman Peter Simpson said. The area where it will be released is on the northern edge of the region where young emperor penguins are known to live. Simpson said he was unsure how far the penguin would have to swim before reaching its final destination.

Since its 3 procedure on Monday the penguin has been recovering well at Wellington Zoo, where its undergone a series of medical procedures to help flush out the sand it swallowed after apparently mistaking it for snow. Doctors managed to remove about half the sand from its digestive system, and zoo spokeswoman Kate Baker said X-rays showed the penguin was passing the rest of the sand naturally (ouch). By all accounts the hardy penguin is doing better than expected at this stage of its recovery and appears to be doing well in an air-conditioned room filled with large blocks of ice.

Happy Feet Happy To Be On Ice And Not Sand

Happy Feet On The Road To Recovery (but not home).

June 28, 2011

The Penguin Post is pleased to report that full recovery for the young emperor penguin — affectionately dubbed Happy Feet — is looking more and more like a distinct possibility, although it may take months.  But, even given the first real optimistic prognosis in days officials are unsure when or how it could return home to the Antarctic, about 2,000 miles away. The penguin was recovering well after the an endoscopy performed by one of New Zealand’s leading surgeons — for human patients. Doctors at the Wellington Zoo guided a camera on a tube through the penguin’s swollen intestines and flushed its stomach to remove the swallowed sand and pieces of driftwood. Penguins eat snow to hydrate themselves during the harsh Antarctic winter. To ensure the health of its newest star, the zoo brought in Wellington Hospital specialist John Wyeth to help with the procedure, New Zealand Press Association reported. Monday’s surgery went well, and doctors removed about half of the remaining sand and several twigs from the bird’s digestive system, zoo spokeswoman Kate Baker said. Medical staff hope the rest of the debris will pass naturally, but an X-ray is scheduled for Wednesday. “It’s positive news, but he’s definitely not out of the woods yet,” Baker said. The penguin is now dining on fish slurry and has been standing and appearing more active than when it arrived, Baker said. The bird was moved to the zoo Friday after its health worsened on the beach. The penguin is being housed in a room at the zoo chilled to about 46 degrees Fahrenheit, Baker said, and has a bed of ice on which it can sleep. Happy Feet (nicknamed by local authorities and the press from the 2006 animated movie), was discovered last week on a North Island beach, the first spotting of an emperor in New Zealand in 44 years. Emperors typically spend their entire lives around Antarctica. After landing on Peka Peka Beach last week, the penguin appeared health at first, but it became dehydraded, suffered heat exhaustion and was eating large amounts of sand.

What’s next for Happy Feet still remains to be decided. Peter Simpson, the program manager of diversity for the Department of Conservation, said he is meeting with penguin experts Wednesday at the zoo to consider options. He said it’s not simply a matter of tossing the penguin back into the ocean off New Zealand’s coast. “There’s no great rush to decide,” Simpson said. “It will most likely need more medical work over the next three months.” Simpson said the penguin will likely remain at the zoo for that time while it recovers. Gareth Morgan, a New Zealand investment adviser, has offered to transport the penguin back to Antarctica next February when he leads an expedition to the southern continent. But Simpson said that, while officials appreciate the offer, they may want to act before then. Simpson said the penguin may be older than experts first thought — perhaps up to 2 1/2 years old rather than the initial estimate of 10 months. It stands about 3 feet (80 centimeters) high. Experts still don’t know if it’s a male or female, Simpson said, although DNA samples should soon provide an answer.

Happy Feet up and about in its new enclosure as it recovers.

Happy Feet Making Progress

June 27, 2011

The Penguin Post is happy to report that “Happy Feet” the penguin is in recovery after doctors today removed an additional one liter of sandy fluid and handful of sticks from his stomach during an operation. Surgery started on Happy Feet this morning with doctors using a device to suck sand, sticks and fish out of its stomach. A leading Wellington surgeon helped work on the emperor penguin found on a Kapiti beach last week. The juvenile emperor penguin, found about 4000 kilometers from home on Peka Peka Beach last week is undergoing an endoscopy to find out what is making him sick. The 27kg bird was taken to Wellington Zoo where it has been staying in a makeshift, temperature-controlled room, on a bed of party ice. More than 100 people gathered at the zoo along with dozens of journalists. Doctors worked for about three hours to removed 1200ml of fluid and sand from its stomach along with a handful of sticks. The operation had to be stopped after some of the equipment they were using broke. It is now recovering and staff at the zoo said they would leave it to try and process the rest of his stomach contents before x-raying it again on Wednesday. Wellington Zoo spokeswoman Kate Baker said today the penguin was “bright” but remained in a critical condition. Ms Baker said Wellington Hospital gastroenterologist Dr John Wyeth would help with the procedure. Dr Wyeth did his training in Wellington and at the Royal Free Hospital in London. “Although we do endoscopies here, a gastroenterologist has a lot more experience and is also bringing along some specialized equipment,” she said. If Happy Feet pulls through another grueling operation today, penguin experts will debate whether taking the Antarctic bird back home is the best option. A Massey University penguin expert, Associate Professor John Cockrem, said choices included releasing the penguin into Foveaux Strait, or taking him back to Antarctica by boat or plane. But transporting the bird would be risky and could threaten his survival. If Happy Feet made it to Antarctica, then placing him with the other penguins would put them at risk of contracting diseases he may have picked up in New Zealand’s more tropical climes. The next trips to Antarctica are supply flights to Scott Base in August. Businessman Gareth Morgan had offered Happy Feet a berth on a Russian icebreaker ship, but that would not be until February. If he was released near Stewart Island, a tracking device could be used to follow his path, Mr Cockrem said. The cost of housing the penguin is being borne jointly by DOC and Wellington Zoo. He is staying in a makeshift, temperature-controlled room, on a bed of party ice. DOC biodiversity program manager Peter Simpson said they had “no idea” what to do yet, and would discuss a permanent solution in the next few days. This was by far the most bewildering conservation issue he had been involved in, he said. “It’s way outside of its usual operating range, and that’s why it’s so extraordinary that it’s survived.” Responding to criticisms that DOC should have acted earlier, Mr Simpson said there had been no reason to intervene until Happy Feet’s condition deteriorated. The penguin initially appeared healthy and experts had hoped that it would make its own way home. Elephant and leopard seals from Antarctica had become stranded on the New Zealand coast and usually left of their own accord.

Doctors prep Happy Feet for another round of stomach flushing preceedures.