Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Guest Post: Penguins Can Change Colors?

This guest post comes to you from Sam Herman of the Aquarium's Visitor Experience department. You may know him from the Exhibit Galleries Blog, where he's posted about fish-eating jellies and airborne right whale skeletons. Sam has also had the opportunity for the past year to cross-train in the penguin department, giving educational presentations from within the exhibit.

If you’re a regular blog reader, you probably already know how we tell our penguins apart in the exhibit – their color bracelets! As Andrea has discussed in this previous post on the Penguin Blog, African penguins can be identified by their unique, fingerprint-like spots on the chest and belly. However, that’s pretty difficult to see when they’re swimming around (and a lot harder to memorize!) so instead we put bracelets on the penguins’ wings to make it easier. We also use the bracelets to identify gender, left wing bracelet means it’s a male and right wing bracelet means it’s a female.

A male and female penguins in the exhibit, note the bracelets on their arms.

As you can imagine there are a lot of different color patterns to remember! Sometimes, it becomes just a tad bit harder because we’ll change a bird’s bracelet. This may not seem like a great idea since everyone has already memorized the name/color combination, but it’s actually a very important change! African penguins are an endangered species and one way that the New England Aquarium is helping to protect them is by participating in a breeding program called the Species Survival Plan. When the color is changed it is usually done to indicate that we have a new, successful SSP breeding pair on exhibit!

Ichaboe (left) and Spheniscus (right)

After the past breeding season, we had an actual color change happen. We’re glad to report that Spheniscus (female) and Ichaboe (male) have had their second successful breeding season as an SSP approved pair and Spheniscus officially changed her colors. In the past she was purple and white on her right wing, she now has black and orange bracelet to match Ichaboe’s color pattern. She was chosen to change because there is already a male with purple and white bracelet: both she and her brother Demersus had the same color pattern because their names, when combined together, create the scientific name of the African penguin – Spheniscus demersus.

Spheniscus wearing her special new wing bracelet

So next time you’re at the Aquarium, see if you can see two African penguins with orange and black bracelets. While you’re at it, keep an eye out for all eight juveniles hatched during the 2011 breeding season.

See you in the galleries!