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South American penguins wearing ‘tailcoats’
Humboldt penguins belong to the genus of banded penguins. They are about 50-70 centimetres in height and have an average weight of 4 kilograms. A black breast band and the black mask are typical of the species. At the same time, the black spots on their white belly are individual and vary from animal to animal. While the birds once lived on land and were still able to fly, many millions of years ago they moved into water and adapted their body accordingly. Humboldt penguins are excellent swimmers and divers. In the water they reach speeds of up to 40 km/h and dive down to 20 metres. They can also see very well under water.
Thermal underwear and diving suit
Humboldt penguins are found on the Pacific coast of South America. Their breeding ground extends over three climate zones – from temperate to tropical. But in the region of the cold Humboldt Current, the water here is not warmer than 12 degrees Celsius. Their downy feathers and a layer of fat protect them against hypothermia. Air between the feathers forms an additional layer of insulation which can similarly have a cooling effect. The penguins clean their plumage with their beak. In addition, they distribute fat from the so-called preen gland onto their feathers, which then form an overlapping, water-repellent surface. The plumage is replaced once a year during the moulting period. They do not go into the water during this time, because their protective coat is missing and they are also easily visible for enemies. The moulting period lasts about three weeks. During this time the penguins draw on their reserves.
All senses together
Hearing is very important for the social interaction among the Humboldt penguins. By means of individual calls they find their partner and chicks recognise their parents. The birds can also see very well underwater. A flexible lens can appropriately adapt its shape to varying refraction of light. For a long time it was assumed that Humboldt penguins are not able to smell. But it turned out that they react to a certain substance that plankton produces and releases when fish eat it. So they are able to smell their prey. But they are only able to taste acidic and salty. Because Humboldt penguins lack the receptors for bitter, sweet and umami, they also cannot taste their principal food, fish.
New faces and old acquaintances
In natural surroundings the Humboldt penguins live together in large breeding colonies. At the Polarium, 25 animals also share the 850 square-metre compound with a large pool and 15 breeding burrows. The penguins come from the zoos in Berlin, Vienna and Aalborg, and were the first inhabitants in the Polarium. Among them are also a few old acquaintances. Pünktchen, Fridolin and others have returned to Rostock from the capital city. Through large viewing windows the visitors can easily observe the penguins swimming and diving. As representatives of their species our Humboldt penguins campaign for the protection of their fellow species.
They are endangered due to climate change, pollution of oceans, overfishing and many other reasons. That is why we support the registered association known as Sphenisco e.V., which is committed to the protection of breeding grounds, the establishment of marine protected areas, environmental education and much more.
You can experience these and many other animals at Rostock Zoo, home to 4,500 animals in 450 different species from all over the world.