Posts Tagged ‘Lighter side of penguins’
The Black-footed Penguins at the California Academy of Sciences have it good. Every year, they get Valentines from people – and seem to enjoy them! This video is from last year’s ceremony shows a few eager penguins accepting their card. You can also check in on the colony live anytime here: http://www.calacademy.org/webcams/penguins/
This year’s best costume award goes to Inkayacu in steampunk explorer mode. Several years ago, while Julia Clarke and I were planning illustrations for the paper describing Inkayacu, the multi-talented Katie Browne (artist and paleontology student) sketched a mock-up of the general shape of the penguin. Sometimes, when you work too late fossil animals start getting jetpacks and top hats (it has happened before, I’ll admit). Here is the result:
No fossil penguin news this week, though I am awaiting the launch of a new paper by our team to share at March of the Fossil Penguins. Instead, let’s take a penguin humor break. This video of a Little Blue Penguin (Eudyptula minor) being tickled has already been viewed 5 million times, so why not share it with a few more people?
We always try to find some holiday-related penguin content and here is one of the more unusual Valentine’s stories for penguins. A pair of penguins at the Shanghai Ocean Aquarium is being married (twice a day no less). Xiaobai and Xiaoxue are Humboldt Penguins. They were chosen because this species, like many penguins, often forms strong pair bonds. The best part of the video is seeing the penguins being driven in a remote control car.
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!
Following up last week’s post on a humorous mistaken “discovery”, this post revisits a bizarre misinterpretation of the fossil record. Patagonia is a land rich in fossils of all kinds, from giant sauropod dinosaurs to the tank-like armored mammalian glypotodons. Most of these fossils are found in terrestrial deposits, but near the coast ancient marine rocks preserve a wealth remains from sea-going creatures, including a diverse set of penguins. Sediments dating to about 20 million years ago are the main penguin bearing deposits, and the most common fossils belong to Palaeospheniscus. The famed Paraptenodytes also lived in this region.
One of the major follies in penguin paleontology was the naming of Palaeoapterodytes ictus in 1905 by the famous Argentine paleontologist Florentino Ameghino. The name means ancient wingless diver. Only a single bone was used to name the species, a humerus (the main bone of the flipper). The bone lacked is distal end, leaving Ameghino to surmise that the species had evolved towards extreme reduction of the flipper, leaving only a tiny stub of bone. Flightless birds have reduced their wings many, many times over the course of evolutionary history. However, penguins aren’t truly flightless when one considers that they “fly” through the water using their flippers just like volant birds fly through the air with their wings. A wingless penguin would be an awkward fellow indeed. I’d assume such a creature would be restricted to hopping around on the shore and perhaps making one good leap into the ocean before floating away like a buoy with no way to control itself.
In reality, the bone was just damaged. Lambrecht pointed this out in his 1933 monograph on fossil birds of the world. George Gaylord Simpson, in the days when scientists were permitted to write in a more engaging voice, wrote of Palaeoapterodytes ictus “based on a manifest error, the name might best be quietly forgotten.” Still, it is interesting to imagine what such a penguin may have looked like….
Today we have largely settled on 19 species in our attempts to classify the living penguins. New fossil species are found every year, but it has been a very long time since a new species of living penguin was found. In the late 1700s and early 1800s, when most penguin species were formally given scientific names, the pace of discovery was faster and the race to name species resulted in some taxonomic slovenliness.
As western naturalists began to explore farther reaches of the oceans, more penguin species were added to the scientific catalog of species, but some species were named more than once. In fact, some were named a dozen times or more! Naturalists “rediscovering” a penguin species already known to science may have thought they had come upon a new species because they were unaware of the published record, which was much more difficult to keep abreast of in a time without internet searches or even telephones, or because they mistook males and females, or young and old birds, or breeding and non-breeding birds for separate species. The King Penguin was officially entered into the scientific literature as Aptenodytes patagonicus in 1778. Latecomers attempted to dub King Penguins with such monikers as Aptenodytes longirostris, Aptenodytes patachonica, and Aptenodytes pennant over the next few decades. Perhaps the strangest name was Penguinarium patachonica – the genus name sounds more like a wondrous bubble-domed penguin-themed park than an animal. The King Penguin also missed out on having the envy inspiring name “A-rex” when Aptenodytes rex was suggested (almost a century late to the table) by the Charles Bonaparte, an ornithologist who happened to be cousin to Napoleon III.
My favorite story of discovering the already known is that of Latham’s Woolly Penguin. Explorers happened upon a creche or juvenile King Penguins in the 1800s, during the phase in the species reproductive cycle when all the adults have left the colony to replenish themselves at sea while the juveniles stand about on the shore and survive for several weeks off fat stores. Apparently these juveniles were mistaken for a new species. Certainly they look very different than the adults – more like big brown bags of leaves than tuxedoed penguins. If you stop to think about it, however, this imagined species biology must have seemed strange. What were all these penguins eating on their little scrap of wind-blown island? Bugs? Pebbles? Sand? It must have been something, given the juveniles can weigh more than the adults at the start of their fasting phase. And why had they lost flight but not gained seaworthiness? I’m not sure if these questions intrigued Latham as he jotted down the entry for the Woolly Penguin in his book.
Of course, it was only a matter of time before the error was recognized, and Woolly Penguins are no longer counted when penguin species role calls are taken. King Penguins still retain a diverse wardrobe of names in common speech – many languages have their own non-scientific name for King Penguins, and some are quite delightful: for example Königspinguin (German), Kongepingvin (Danish), Rí-phiongain (Gaelic) and Le Manchot Royal (French).
Latham J. 1821. General History of Birds. London: Winchester,
Jacob and Johnson.