At the Bruce Museum, we take good care of our specimens. One of my favorites is of course our Black-footed Penguin (who by the way needs a name – please vote on here). Here it is, taking a one-week vacation from the natural history collections cabinets in the deep-freeze. Why this destination? One of the many ways museums keep specimens safe from pests is precautionary freezing. This kills insect pests that can infest objects like bird feathers and mammal fur and lead to damaged or destroyed specimens. When new specimens come into our museum or we shuffle things on and off display, we give them a deep freeze as a safeguard against unwanted hitchhiking pests.
Disclaimer: In case any museum folks were horrified to see me putting a penguin directly into the freezer, we seal all our specimens in bags before freezing them to prevent frost damage.
The Bruce Museum needs your help! We have a wonderful penguin in our collection, and it needs a name.
Please go to the museum’s Facebook page to vote for your favorite name – or suggest your own! We’ll report the winner and then cover some of the planned travels of this particular penguin in service of science and education.
So far, the leading candidates are Mrs. Bagley (after the 1942 donor of the specimen), Marples (after penguin paleontologist Brian J. Marples), Griswold (after original Bruce Museum Curator Paul Griswold Howes), and Moffat (after Robert Moffat Bruce, who ceded his estate to house the Bruce Museum in 1908).
This summer March of the Fossil Penguins went on hiatus while I moved north. I’m now a Curator at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, and we have some great penguin content (fossil, live, and virtual) planned for the next few months. Stay tuned as we get back to work promotion penguin science!
If you need a fossil penguin fix right away, the New England Aquarium hosted a series of four fossil penguin posts while we were offline, and you can see them all at the aquarium penguin guest blog.
Things have been quiet at March of the Fossil Penguins lately, in large part because I have busy moving north. This summer, I started my tenure as the Curator of Science for the Bruce Museum. Now that things are settling down, there are some new posts on the horizon. For the summer, I am planning a series of 4 articles for the New England Aquarium’s guest blog, and I will link to each of them here. Several other penguin researchers are guest blogging as well. Right now, you can read about Dr. Jessica Kemper’s adventures deploying GPS loggers on African Penguins.
April 25th is World Penguin Day (not to be confused with Penguin Awareness Day, which is January 20th). I celebrated a bit early by sharing the story of our African penguin research at Sigma Xi headquarters. You can see a podcast reviewing the story at the American Scientist website.
In a recent article in PLoS ONE, and colleagues announced the discovery of a new fossil penguin species, Eudyptes calauina. This new species hails from the Horcon locality, along the southern coast of Chile. The fossils are from the Late Pliocene, about 2-3 million years old. Flipper and leg bones were discovered, several of them in very nice condition. The authors completed a phylogenetic analysis, designed to use characteristics of the bones to place the new species within the evolutionary tree of penguins. The results show the new species belongs to the crested penguin genus Eudyptes, which is represented by seven living species (eight if you split the Rockhoppers more finely). These penguins are defined by their bright yellow head plumes, which are present in both males and females. Interestingly, there are no crested penguins in the region today. Banded Spheniscus penguins dominate, including Magellanic Penguins (Spheniscus magellanicus) and also a few Humboldt Penguins (Spheniscus humboldti), which have their main strongholds to the north. Besides extending the geographic range of the Eudyptes group, the new species is larger than any of the living species. Together with previous discoveries of stiff-tailed Pygoscelis penguin fossils in Chile, fossil excavations are revealing a major turnover in penguin faunas along the coats of South America within just the past few million years. Given that penguins have been hanging out on the continent for over 40 million years, this can be viewed as a rapid change.
One of the reasons this new discovery is important is that it tells us more about the relationship between ocean currents and seabird faunas. The Humboldt Current plays a major role in defining ecosystems along the Pacific coast of South America by providing nutrient rich cold-water upwelling. Today, the seabird communities of northern Chile and Peru are quite distinct from those in southern Chile, with a general trend towards more cold-adapted birds taking over as one moves south. We know a lot about the history of penguins in the northern part of Chile and Peru from fossils such as the “bobble-headed” penguin Spheniscus megaramphus, which lived around the same time as Eudyptes calauina, as well as much older fossils like Perudyptes devriesi. However, up until now we have had a very poor understanding of what types of penguins where living in the southern Pacific coastal area. Eudyptes calauina heralds a pattern differences that many paleontologists suspect will grow more profound as more field work is conducted, reinforcing the role of ocean currents in enforcing boundaries between species assemblages.
Chávez Hoffmeister M, Carrillo Briceño JD, Nielsen SN (2014) The Evolution of Seabirds in the Humboldt Current: New Clues from the Pliocene of Central Chile. PLoS ONE 9(3): e90043. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0090043