Long, long ago, O Best Beloved, the ancestor of the penguins could soar through the air. So why did the penguin give up flight? Rudyard Kipling never wrote a Just So story with an answer, but now scientists have one: The penguin doesn’t fly because it would rather swim.
A new study of murres, penguinlike seabirds that retain the ability to take wing, shows just how costly and inefficient it is to be both a diver and a flyer. The new findings back the long-held hypothesis that penguins gave up the heavens more than 70 million years ago to become kings of the waves.
“This study contributes a lot by putting hard numbers on the energy costs of moving through both the aerial and aquatic realms,” writes Daniel Ksepka of North Carolina State University in Raleigh, who studies penguin evolution and was not involved with the research, in an e-mail…
These king penguin chicks were pictured in early spring of this year in the colony at St. Andrew Bay, South Georgia. King penguins colonize in huge groups, and this colony is more than 100,000 penguins strong. Park regulations mandate that only 100 people may be ashore at any one time and must stay 10 meters away from the colony.
The park asks that visitors “Take particular care not to disturb, or shift, moulting king penguins.”
The largest penguin species, the Emperor Penguin, has an adaptation in its bones (which is special amongst bird species) that allows it to survive deep dives for food. Do you know what that adaptation is?
The bones of the Emperor Penguin are solid, rather than hollow, which eliminates the risk of mechanical barotrauma that would otherwise occur during deep dives with pressures up to 40 times that found on the surface. Most bird species have at least some bones that are hollow, or pneumatized, allowing for flight.
Some penguin species, like the Emperor Penguin, and the Ostrich, do not have these hollow bones. Notice, these are the bird species that do not fly.
(via: Biodiversity Heritage Library)
image from The American natural history; a foundation of useful knowledge of the higher animals of North America, 1914, by William T. Hornaday
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called for the establishment of increased protections in two parts of the Southern Ocean around Antarctica at an event held last night (March 18) by The Pew Charitable Trusts at the National Geographic Society in Washington, D.C.
“The Ross Sea … is a natural laboratory. And we disrespect it at our peril, as we do the rest of the ocean,” Kerry said in his remarks at the event, which also screened the award-winning documentary “The Last Ocean,” which highlights the Ross Sea…
Emperor Penguins with blue bellies, green beaks, and red eyes huddle over a patch of black snow — a multicolored Antarctic landscape, as seen through the eye of an infrared thermal imager.
The psychedelic colors, which correspond to different temperatures, reveal that much of a penguin’s outer surface is cooler than the surrounding air — except, of course, for their unfeathered eyes, beaks, and feet.
“Most of the body that is covered by thick plumage was found to be, on average, 4 to 6 degreesC colder than surrounding air temperature,” said biophysical ecologist Dominic McCafferty of the University of Glasgow. Only the birds’ eyes measured above freezing. “At first, we were very surprised by this discovery,” he said.
The observations, reported today in Biology Letters, suggest that extreme radiative cooling draws heat from a penguin’s feathery surface. (On a clear, cold night, you can see the effects of radiative cooling in the frost that forms on windows, roofs, and grasses.) But because they’re insulated beneath layers of feathers and fat, the birds can still maintain a body temperature of about 39 degrees C (102 degrees F), even when shuffling through the -40 C Antarctic night…
Emperor penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri) are famous for their familial devotion, with males incubating a single egg for more than 2 months while their mates travel to the sea for food. But their commitment typically lasts for only one breeding season. Emperor penguins usually latch onto a mate quickly after returning to the colony, and if the previous year’s partner isn’t around, he or she will find someone else.
Penguins are unusual birds in that they cannot fly and are instead proficient swimmers and divers. Evolutionary biologists have long wondered how penguins evolved their peculiar traits and how some of their kind conquered the bitterly cold Antarctic. Recent fossil discoveries have enabled researchers to piece together the penguins’ evolutionary past, revealing that some of the traits that fortify them against the cold evolved under warm conditions. Although penguins have triumphed over 60 million years of climate change, current warming conditions may outpace their ability to adapt…
Adélie penguins in Antarctica: Back in the mid-1970′s Torgersen Island was home to roughly 9,000 breeding pairs of Adélie penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae)… Since then, climate change has decreased the breeding pairs by 81 percent to 2,500.
Motion detectors mounted on emperor penguins have revealed that sea ice plays a critical role in the birds’ long food odyssey.
Emperor penguins rely on sea ice for breeding and feeding. Shifting patterns of sea ice due to changing climate in the Antarctic could alter the penguin’s behavior and ecology, said study author Shinichi Watanabe, an animal ecologist and professor at Fukuyama University in Hiroshima, Japan.
The Antarctic sea ice hit a record maximum this year, but the sea ice distribution around the continent is changing, while the penguins nest in the same place every year. ”If penguins don’t stay on the ice during foraging trips, they may not be able to sustain such long trips,” Watanabe told OurAmazingPlanet…
2 New Emperor Penguin Colonies Spied in Antarctica
by LiveScience Staff
Researchers have finally found a long-sought colony of emperor penguins in eastern Antarctica, but they say it’s been split in two due to a glacier break. Moreover, a tally of the 6,000 chicks among these two populations suggests there are more emperor penguin parents in this part of the frozen continent than previously thought.
French scientists spied the waddling, flightless birds on winter sea ice near the Mertz Glacier while on their way to Dumont d’Urville Station. (The documentary “March of the Penguins” was filmed near this research base.)
One population has about 2,000 baby penguins and the second, about 4,000 of the chicks. Since emperor penguin parents can only have one chick per year, the researchers say there are likely more than 8,500 breeding pairs in the region, about three times more than previously estimated…