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Endymion's First Molt

June 2, 2010 | Tag(s): Endymion, Penguins
By: Dee, Aquarist at The Audubon Aquarium of the Americas

Endymion, our juvenile African Black-footed Penguin has gone through her first molt.

 

This summer the Audubon Aquarium is celebrating a huge milestone, its twentieth birthday.  In the Husbandry Department we are celebrating our own little milestone.  Endymion, our youngest African black-footed penguin (Spheniscus demersus,) has molted and is sporting her adult feathers.

          Endymion, the Aquariums first penguin chick to hatch since 2001, was born February 21, 2009.  She was named after the Krewe of Endymion; the Mardi Gras parade that rolled that evening.  The 2010 Endymion parade threw plush Endymion penguins as a tribute.  A fitting name, as she has been a boisterous addition to the colony.  A bit bossy at times, Endymion has been known to push her parents Amquel and VooDoo out of the way at feeding time.

           During the first molt, the suspense of what the penguin will look like  as an adult is overwhelming.  Each penguin’s feather pattern is unique, like human fingerprints.  The anticipation is similar to that of new parents theorizing who the unborn baby will look like.

In addition to individual personalities we use these markings to tell each bird apart.  All juvenile blackfooted penguins look the same, sooty black on the back and around the face, with a white belly.  Normally, a juvenile penguin will go through their first molt somewhere between one and two years old.  They will then sport the same black-and-white plumage as their adult counterparts.

Unlike other species of birds that lose feathers one at a time and continuously replace them, most penguin species go through a complete molt (shed all their feathers at once) each year.  Molting is essential to penguin health, since feathers wear out during the year.  Feathers become worn when penguins rub against each other, come in contact with the ground and water, and preen (clean, rearrange, and oil) their feathers.  The new feathers grow under the old ones, pushing them out.  During the molt, the penguin appears to have bald spots and loses most of its insulating and waterproofing capabilities. Because of this, penguins stay out of the water until their plumage is restored to optimum condition.

 In the wild, a penguin would be unable to go into the water during a molt, and in turn would fast for a week or two.  To prepare for this, they build a fat layer, which provides energy until the molt is over.  Here at the Aquarium, a penguin will typically eat about 14 capelin per feed.  When preparing for a molt, they have been known to eat as many as 25 fish per feed.  In addition to stocking up before they molt, you will regularly see our penguins eat while they are molting because they do not have to go into the water to catch their food.      

At any given time during the year you may see one or two of our penguins on exhibit molting. Next time you visit the Aquarium be sure to look for Endymion and her new feathers.

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