March of the Fossil Penguins

Fossil penguin discoveries and research

Archive for November 2011

March of the Fossil Penguins is heading south!

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This week, March of the Fossil Penguins is heading to New Zealand.  I will be traveling to search for fossil penguins and work on specimens in the Otago Museum with Dr. R. Ewan Fordyce.  There will be some live updates over the next three weeks as our team works to shed more light on penguin evolution on the South Island.

A Yellow-Eyed Penguin, native of New Zealand. Penguins have been stomping (and swimming) around the South Island for more than 60 million years.

Written by Dan Ksepka

November 29, 2011 at 12:49 pm

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Happy Thanksgiving from March of the Fossil Penguins!

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Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers! For those of you who would like to bring penguins to your holiday table, here are some adorable hors d’oeuvres made from olives, cream cheese, carrot slices, and red pepper for the jaunty bow ties.

Thanks to Once Upon A Plate for the recipe, and to my mother-in-law for the snacks and photo!

Written by Dan Ksepka

November 24, 2011 at 11:09 am

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Pygoscelis chicks at the Central Park Zoo

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It is penguin raising season again at the Central Park Zoo.  One of the really neat things about the zoo is that they keep their penguins on Southern Hemisphere time.  As the austral calender rolls on, the penguins go through their yearly cycle of molting, pairing, and nesting.  This adds extra value to your zoo membership, as you can visit on different weeks and see penguins diving for pebbles, tending to eggs or standing around grouchily while their molted feathers clog the filters.  As winter approaches in New York and the days get shorter, the penguins get a full Antarctic summer day’s worth of light and start working on their nests.  Each year, several batches of eggs hatch at the zoo, yielding a new crop of baby Chinstrap (Pygoscelis antarctica) and Gentoo (Pygoscelis papua) penguins. This year, there is a special blog covering it all: http://chicks.centralparkzoo.com/

Pink Dot, one of the new arrivals at the Central Park Zoo.

Written by Dan Ksepka

November 19, 2011 at 9:49 pm

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Tour of the Penguin Skeleton IV: The Patella

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One of the most difficult penguin bones to identify in isolation is the patella.  This element looks like a misshapen cube, with one smooth surface and several rough faces.  If found by itself outside a box of penguin bones, or eroding out of the surface in fossil form, it would be difficult to be sure that a patella was even a bone. The bizarre appearance of the patella is in part due to the fact that it is a sesamoid, or a bone that is embedded within a tendon. In life, the patella sits at the joint between the femur and tibiotarsus.  One of its main functions is to help guide the tendon of the ambiens muscle, which either travels through a hole in the patella (in most extinct penguins and in the living stiff-tailed penguins of the genus Pygoscelis) or across a groove in the surface (in most living penguins).

Humans have a patella too, and it is sometimes referred to as the kneecap.  This is a fairly apt name, as the bone looks somewhat like a smashed lid. It sits between the same two bones in humans (although we have a plain tibia, rather than a tibiotarsus).  Presence or absence of a patella varies in birds – some families have a large patella like penguins, others have a very tiny version, and some have none at all.  Perhaps the most interesting patella is that of the loon, which is very large and helps these birds with their unique kick-diving mode of locomotion.

A fossil patella from the extinct penguin Aptenodytes ridgeni. The red arrow indicates the groove for the tendon of the ambiens muscle.

Written by Dan Ksepka

November 15, 2011 at 9:02 pm

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Penguin Webcams at the California Academy of Sciences

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I just found out about this set of land and underwater webcams trained on the Blackfooted penguins in the California Academy of Sciences.  Check them out if you need a live penguin fix now that Happy Feet has left his enclosure in New Zealand.

http://www.calacademy.org/webcams/penguins/

Written by Dan Ksepka

November 11, 2011 at 1:13 am

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