Featherless Penguin Gets a Helping Hand from Humans
Several posts ago, we talked about penguin molting strategies. One of the interesting things about penguin molts is that they shed all their feathers rapidly over the course of two or three weeks, rather than gradually throughout entire the year. But, that doesn’t mean that penguins drop all their feathers and wait about naked while they wait for new ones to grow in. During the molt period, the new feathers push the old feathers out as they emerge from within the skin. This way, new feathers are ready to go by the time the old ones fall off. At least, most of the time.
Ralph is a Humboldt Penguin (Spheniscus humboldti) at the Marwell Wildlife center in the UK. Probably due to some type of genetic problem, Ralph sheds all his old feathers before the new ones emerge during molt season. This poses a big problem because his pink penguin hide could be burned to a crisp in the sun without protection. The zookeepers came up with an innovative and somewhat comical solution – a penguin wetsuit. Ralph gets zipped into a miniature jacket made from the leg of human wetsuit until his new feathers grow in. Apparently the other penguins in the enclosure were baffled at first but shortly thereafter accepted him back into the group.
You can watch a short video of Ralph here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1206290/Featherless-Ralph-penguin-swim-things-getting-new-wetsuit.html