Thursday, November 5, 2015

Adelie Penguins

Adélie penguins
Among the many penguin species found populating the coasts of Antarctica, the Adélie Penguin, , is one of the smallest, yet most interesting. The average Adélie penguin weighs only 8 to 9 lbs. (4 kilograms) and stands approximately 28 inches (70 cm.) tall. It has a rigid tail with extended feathers that drag behind it when it walks. The animal’s head and back are black while each bird has a white belly and white rings around each of its eyes. The small bird owes its name to Jules Dumont d'Urville, a French explorer active in Antarctica in the 1830s. He chose to immortalize his wife’s name with the species.

This flightless, aquatic bird both nests and breeds in the Ross Sea region of Antarctica, an area of rocky, ice-free beaches. Nearly a half million Adélies penguins live in this region. It breeds from October through February and generally lays two eggs during this period. These eggs are protected by sturdy stone nests crafted by the parents. During this developmental stage, the males keep the eggs warm while the female feeds for around three weeks. After this initial period, the parents rotate the roles of searching for food and incubating the eggs. They must maintain a constant warming presence on their unborn offspring. Even though the most prevalent breeding time for Adélies is December, the warmest month of the year (average -2°C), the eggs must be kept warm.

The young chicks soon hatch and molt, after twenty-two days in the nest, and take their first dip in the sea at around fifty days. As the chicks mature, the parents, returning with food, will often make their offspring chase them. They will not relinquish the coveted meal until the youngling catches up. They do this to strengthen the chick’s resourcefulness and prepare it for the struggle of feeding itself. Often, only one chick survives this growing period. The surviving chick, however, now finds itself conditioned to seek out, chase, and catch its own meals.

Although the Adélie Penguin is very social, nesting in large groups and foraging together in relative peace, it is very hostile in the defense of its nest. Upon witnessing another penguin stealing stones from its nest, an Adélie will react violently and confront the other bird. The Adélie can be very obstinate, firmly standing its ground against much larger, more powerful predators. In his book, titled The Worst Journey in the World , Apsley Cherry-Garrard, a survivor of Robert Scott’s doomed expedition to the South Pole, had this to say about the Adélie: “They are extraordinarily like children, these little people of the Antarctic world, either like children or like old men, full of their own importance.”

The Adélie sustains itself on many Antarctic fish types, along with the readily available populations of krill and squid of the surrounding oceans. Instead of directly drinking water, the Adélie pulls moisture from the snow it eats. In order to filter the vast amounts of water it may accidently intake during the catching and eating of prey while submerged, the Adélie’s nose houses a gland that filters out salt.
The Adélie is known to travel vast distances, over eight thousand miles (13,000 km), from their breeding sites to feeding grounds and back again. They follow the sun on this trek. Adélie Penguin is a resilient species, a fascinating Antarctic creature, while not as famous as its Imperial cousin, that expunges a rich, intriguing relationship with the environment in which it lives.

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