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Flightless Friday - Spheniscus demersus Edition

Put your wings away, everyone. Because this is Flightless Friday.

The African Penguin (Spheniscus demersus) is the only species of penguin that nests and breeds in Africa, and is where the Penguin Islands off the coast of Namibia got their name. Most of the colonies are situated on those islands, although there are a few colonies that have been established on the mainland coast. African Penguins are also called black-footed penguins (self-explanatory) and jackass penguins, because of the loud braying calls they make (not because they do stupid and dangerous tricks on bicycles). The penguins who belong to the Spheniscus genus are known as “banded penguins” because of the pattern of color on their bodies.


African Penguins have pink patches of skin around their eyes, which exposes a gland that helps them to regulate their body temperature. When they start to become overheated, their circulatory system pumps more blood to these glands to allow the ambient air to cool it. The glands turn from light pink to dark pink when this happens. Adult African Penguins stand about 28 inches (70 cm) in height, and weigh up to 7.7 pounds (3.5 kg). The exact pattern of the color bands on their bodies are unique to each individual penguin.

African Penguins hunt by diving in pursuit of the prey, chasing different kinds of pelagic fish like anchovies, sardines and pilchards. They will also go after crustaceans and cephalopods. They can dive up to 200 feet (60 meters) and swim at speeds of approximately 12 miles per hour (20 kmh). Spending so much time in the water requires constant maintenance, since penguins depend on their feathers to trap a layer of air for insulation. This means that whenever they are not in the water, they are usually preening, distributing the waxy substance secreted at the base of the tail all over their feathers. Even so, they undergo a complete moult once a year. This takes about 20 days, and during that time they cannot swim.


Although African Penguins breed in colonies, they form monogamous pairs. Breeding season depends on location, but is fairly extended. The penguins will dig nests in sand, dirt, scrub or even guano, and the female lays a clutch of two eggs. The parents take turns incubating the eggs for about 40 days, and closely guard the chicks for their first 30 days of life. After that, the chicks join the chicks of other pairs, forming a créche for greater protection. Once the chicks are fledged, they are able to enter the water.


The overall population of African Penguins is considered to be only about 10% of what it was in the early 1900s. It began to decline after the eggs were over-harvested for food, and their guano was collected to be used as fertilizer, which deprived some colonies of nesting material. Today, the population has been kept down through commercial over-fishing and oil spills, which have a devastating impact on the penguins. They are considered to be an endangered species by the IUCN, and all of their breeding colonies are protected.


Source for all images used in this post.

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