DO YOU DO IF YOU FIND A PENGUIN IN THE ROAD?
October 27, 2013
People love them, whether they are in nature documentaries, magazines,
animated feature films, or zoos. A new book, "Penguins: The Animal
Answer Guide" by Gerald L. Kooyman and Wayne Lynch (Johns Hopkins
University Press, 2013), answers myriad questions about these absurdly
cute flightless birds. Some are commonplace: how many kinds of penguins
are there? Others are less so: what should I do if I find a penguin
crossing a road?
is in the standard format for this outstanding series of books in which
answers are given to 100 questions about a particular group of animals.
Also in keeping with the other animal answer guide books, the authors
are highly qualified. Kooyman is "the world's foremost expert on
emperor penguins," the ones featured in the films "March of
the Penguins" and "Happy Feet." Lynch's photographs are
superb, as anyone familiar with this world-class wildlife photographer
species of penguins exist today and all live in the Southern Hemisphere.
Why are there no penguins in the Northern Hemisphere? A variety of reasons
can be given, some of which are based on speculation. According to the
scientific evidence, "Penguins evolved in the tropical and subtropical
waters" but "present-day penguins are all a product of cold
weather origins." Competition with sea lions and fur seals is given
as one explanation for penguins not expanding their range into certain
regions. Terrestrial predators also posed a perpetual hazard for fat
little flightless birds that nested on land, although some have managed
to do so successfully on the southernmost continents. The authors indicate
that the complete answer for why penguins did not go north and today
are restricted to the Southern Hemisphere remains a mystery. But one
supposition is that the colder regions toward Antarctica with fewer
large marine mammals were more suitable.
penguin of Antarctica is the largest living species, with both males
and females being up to four feet tall and commonly reaching body weights
of more than 55 pounds. Some of the largest fossil penguins were gigantic,
with estimated heights of up to five and a half feet and weights of
almost 300 pounds! The tiniest penguin is the little blue penguin. Belonging
to a species in Australia known as the fairy penguin, a full-grown adult
is a bit over a foot tall and weighs less than three pounds.
and albatrosses, penguins live much longer than most of our backyard
birds, in the wild and in captivity. Most if not all of the living species
probably live more than 20 years. One investigator in the Antarctic
estimated that emperor penguins have an average longevity of 20 years
and some probably attain ages of more than 50. An African penguin that
was banded and released is the oldest known-age individual that has
been studied in the wild, reportedly having lived for 27 years. Two
Humboldt penguins from the southern tip of South America are the oldest
penguins whose ages have been documented in captivity, one at 42 years
old (Sea World) and another at 43 (Brookfield Zoo). Clearly, penguins
are potentially long-lived animals.
answers many more questions about these appealing birds, such as do
they have teeth, do they sleep, do they molt. One question that most
of us are unlikely to ask or to hear someone else ask is what to do
if you find a penguin crossing a road. This might, however, be a legitimate
query for folks who live near penguin colonies in parts of New Zealand
and the southern regions of Australia, South America, and Africa. As
is true for most wildlife anywhere, the first advice is to leave it
alone. If the penguin is entering a hazardous area, the authors' advice
is to "catch the penguin and return it to the seashore. Otherwise,
just act as a crossing guard until is it safely across the road."
I'll keep that in mind, as should you.
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