21 February 2015

Little penguin Flipper's sad death has positive outcomes for conservation

NEW ZEALAND – Flipper, the paralysed little penguin who appeared in the media in early January, has had to be euthanised despite weeks of care and rehabilitation.

“Unfortunately upon release it became apparent that this individual wasn’t going to survive in his natural environment," said Mauao Area Wildlife Trust director Julia Graham.

"Despite excellent vet treatment and rehabilitation care not all sick and injured wildlife can be saved.”

The Department of Conservation is working in partnership with the Mauao Area Wildlife Trust and other volunteer organisations to grow the conservation of penguins and other seabirds around the Mount area.

17 February 2015

Genetic evidence leaves sour and salty taste in penguins' mouths

King penguin.
Credit: Jianzhi "George" Zhang
Penguins apparently can't enjoy or even detect the savoury taste of the fish they eat or the sweet taste of fruit. 

A new analysis of genetic evidence reported in the Cell Press journal Current Biology this week suggests that penguins have lost three of the five basic tastes over evolutionary time. For them, it appears, food comes in only two flavours: salty and sour.

Many other birds can't taste sweet things either. But they do have receptors for detecting bitter and umami (or meaty) flavours.

"Penguins eat fish, so you would guess that they need the umami receptor genes, but for some reason they don't have them," said Jianzhi "George" Zhang of the University of Michigan, one of the authors of the study.

"These findings are surprising and puzzling, and we do not have a good explanation for them. But we have a few ideas." 

11 February 2015

Scientists reveal rapid biological transition event for New Zealand penguins

NEW ZEALAND - An international research team led by scientists from the University of Otago’s Department of Zoology has documented one of the most rapid biological transition events ever found.

The team used carbon dating and ancient DNA analysis of archaeological penguin remains from coastal New Zealand to establish the timing of penguin extinction and colonisation events.

“Previous research has shown that at the time of human arrival, New Zealand was inhabited by the waitaha penguin,"said Dr Nic Rawlence, who carried out the study.

"Hunting and habitat change apparently caused the extinction of this unique mainland penguin, before the yellow-eyed penguin later arrived here from the subantarctic. Until now, we really had no idea when one species went extinct and the other colonised.”

The new dating study has shown that waitaha penguin went extinct around the same time as the giant flightless moa, within 200 years of Polynesian settlement of New Zealand, before 1500 AD.

Intriguingly, the yellow-eyed penguin then replaced the extinct penguin within just a few decades, in the early 1500s.

07 February 2015

Oldest known African penguin dies at Pueblo Zoo

Tess at Pueblo Zoo. Credit: Colorado State University.
USA - Pueblo Zoo in Colorado announced today that Tess, the oldest known living African penguin in captivity and the oldest female on record, has died at age 40.

This is an amazing feat, considering that in the wild the average life expectancy of African penguins is 15 to 20 years.

She is survived by her mate, Mongo.

“She was truly a special animal,” her primary keeper, Melanie Pococke, said in the zoo's announcement.

05 February 2015

Podgy penguins make better breeders

AUSTRALIA - Putting on a little weight over winter increases a little penguin’s sexual success according to new research published in Royal Society Open Science last month.  

Researchers at Phillip Island Nature Parks, Australia, in collaboration with scientists from the French Research Council, discovered the winter body mass of little penguins has a carry-over effect on timing of breeding and reproductive success during spring and summer.

“Little penguin parents that put on weight in winter, and were heavier than their mass before or after July, were more likely to lay their eggs early, and males were more likely to successfully breed,” AndrĂ© Chiaradia, research scientist at Phillip Island Nature Parks said.