Friday, June 19, 2009

Beaked, Bird-like Dinosaur Tells Story Of Finger Evolution

This image shows a reconstruction of Limusaurus; there is no evidence of feather structures. (Credit: Portia Sloan)

Beaked, Bird-like Dinosaur Tells Story Of Finger Evolution

ScienceDaily (June 18, 2009) — Scientists have discovered a unique beaked, plant-eating dinosaur in China. The finding, they say, demonstrates that theropod, or bird-footed, dinosaurs were more ecologically diverse in the Jurassic period than previously thought, and offers important evidence about how the three-fingered hand of birds evolved from the hand of dinosaurs.

The discovery is reported in a paper published in the June 18 edition of the journal Nature.

"This work on dinosaurs provides a whole new perspective on the evolution of bird manual digits," said H. Richard Lane, program director in the National Science Foundation (NSF)'s Division of Earth Sciences, which funded the research.

"This new animal is fascinating, and when placed into an evolutionary context it offers intriguing evidence about how the hand of birds evolved," said scientist James Clark of George Washington University.

Clark, along with Xu Xing of the Chinese Academy of Science's Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing, made the discovery. Clark's graduate student, Jonah Choiniere, also was involved in analyzing the new animal.

"This finding is truly exciting, as it changes what we thought we knew about the dinosaur hand," said Xu. "It also brings conciliation between the data from million-year-old bones and molecules of living birds."

Limusaurus inextricabilis ("mire lizard who could not escape") was found in 159 million-year-old deposits located in the Junggar Basin of Xinjiang, northwestern China. The dinosaur earned its name from the way its skeletons were preserved, stacked on top of each other in fossilized mire pits.

A close examination of the fossil shows that its upper and lower jaws were toothless, demonstrating that the dinosaur possessed a fully developed beak. Its lack of teeth, short arms without sharp claws and possession of gizzard stones suggest that it was a plant-eater, though it is related to carnivorous dinosaurs.

The newly discovered dinosaur's hand is unusual and provides surprising new insights into a long-standing controversy over which fingers are present in living birds, which are theropod dinosaur descendants. The hands of theropod dinosaurs suggest that the outer two fingers were lost during the course of evolution and the inner three remained.

Conversely, embryos of living birds suggest that birds have lost one finger from the outside and one from the inside of the hand. Unlike all other theropods, the hand of Limusaurus strongly reduced the first finger and increased the size of the second. Clark and Xu argue that Limusaurus' hand represents a transitional condition in which the inner finger was lost and the other fingers took on the shape of the fingers next to them.

The three fingers of most advanced theropods are the second, third and fourth fingers-the same ones indicated by bird embryos-contrary to the traditional interpretation that they were the first, second and third.

Limusaurus is the first ceratosaur known from East Asia and one of the most primitive members of the group. Ceratosaurs are a diverse group of theropods that often bear crests or horns on their heads, and many have unusual, knobby fingers lacking sharp claws.

The fossil beds in China that produced Limusaurus have previously yielded skeletons of a variety of dinosaurs and contemporary animals described by Clark and Xu.

These include the oldest tyrannosaur, Guanlong wucaii; the oldest horned dinosaur, Yinlong downsi; a new stegosaur, Jiangjunosaurus junggarensis; and the running crocodile relative, Junggarsuchus sloani.

This research was also funded by the National Geographic Society, the Chinese National Natural Science Foundation, the Jurassic Foundation and the Hilmar Sallee bequest.
Adapted from materials provided by National Science Foundation.

National Science Foundation. "Beaked, Bird-like Dinosaur Tells Story Of Finger Evolution." ScienceDaily 18 June 2009. 19 June 2009 .

Friday, June 12, 2009

Could Antarctica Have Been Where Modern Avian Species Originated?

Photo Credit: Judd Case
Sandwich Bluff on Vega Island, northern Antarctic Peninsula, where the Vegavis specimen and many other late Cretaceous, Antarctic bird specimens, have been recovered. The specimens here range in age from 70 to 67.5 million years ago.
Antarctic bird nest?

Discovery of avian fossils suggests Antarctica may have been origin of modern species
By Peter Rejcek, Antarctic Sun Editor
Posted June 5, 2009

Julia Clarke External Non-U.S. government site has good reason to believe fossils collected from islands along the Antarctic Peninsula could yield new insights into the evolutionary history of modern birds.

After all, about five years ago, she and her U.S. and Argentine colleagues found proof from a rock specimen, which contained avian vertebrae and pelvic bones among other bits of skeleton, that close relatives of at least one order of modern birds co-existed with dinosaurs.

The discovery of the new species, Vegavis iaai, collected in 1992 by scientists from Argentina on Vega Island and re-examined by Clarke and her U.S. and Argentine team more than a decade later, using high-resolution X-ray computed tomography (CT) technology, resulted in a paper in the journal Nature in 2005. Based on the data, Vegavis iaai fell within the order Anseriformes, which includes ducks, geese and swan.

Vegavis lived more than 65 million years ago, well before Antarctica turned into an icehouse. It also existed just before the mass extinction that swept the dinosaurs from the Earth along with up to three-quarters of all species.

The find was important because it offered some of the best fossil evidence to date that linked modern bird divergence, the spread of today’s species, before the K-T boundary — when geologic time turned the page from the Cretaceous to the Tertiary period after the mass extinction.

On one side of the controversy are scientists who argue that molecular evidence and modern distribution of living bird groups suggest that their ancestors existed alongside non-avian dinosaurs well before the K-T extinction, perhaps tens of millions of years earlier. Others have claimed the fossil record shows no real evidence of living bird lineages in the Cretaceous. Only after the extinction, they say, did modern bird evolution take flight.

“It’s still really extraordinarily contentious five years later what lineages are present in the Cretaceous prior to the K-T boundary,” said Clarke, associate professor in the Department of Geological Sciences at the University of Texas at Austin External Non-U.S. government site. “We propose you have the beginnings of this radiation supported [by the Vegavis specimen]. We don’t see any evidence yet of [all extant bird radiation] having happened so much earlier in the fossil record.”

Clarke and her colleagues believe they may find additional information on what lineages date before the K-T boundary by examining additional fossils collected from Antarctica over the last 20 years.
Growing evidence

Clarke is the principal investigator (PI) on a Small Grant for Exploratory Research (SGER) from the National Science Foundation (NSF) External U.S. government site to pull together the data and experts from the United States and Argentina to see what the fossil record from the Antarctic Peninsula says about the evolutionary history of other orders of birds, most of which fall into the superorder Neoaves. (It was a separate SGER project that led to the discovery that Vegavis was closely related to modern waterfowl, Anseriformes, which fall into the superorder Galloanserae.)

Julia Clarke
Photo Credit: North Carolina State University
Julia Clarke holds a penguin skull related to separate avian fossil research.

“The partial skeletons … from Antarctica are the best candidates for being part of that extant radiation,” Clarke said. “The nice thing about getting this team together is we’re sharing information, we’re sharing data, and hopefully coming to a consensus view of what diversity is represented,” Clarke said.

Her co-PI on the project is Judd Case, dean of Eastern Washington University’s College of Science, Health and Engineering External Non-U.S. government site. He made several expeditions to Vega and James Ross islands between 1997 and 2004 on the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula to hunt for vertebrate fossils. The goal of those expeditions was to put together a more complete picture of dinosaur, mammal and reptile geographic distribution and evolution between 80 and 65 million years ago.

Case said the material from those finds has further bolstered the hypothesis of the earlier radiation of modern birds, with at least four lineages emerging before the K-T extinction based on the evidence the scientists are assembling.

“We’ve got a good amount of material to make the judgment,” he said. “We’ve got good documented, late Cretaceous deposits,” including specimens from the major clade, or group, Neoaves.

“The fossil data, along with the molecular data, continue to point to this older origination, and it’s providing a location where this … may have occurred,” Case said.

Ground zero for bird originationVegavis iaai concretion, left, and the CT scan of the rock and bird fossils. CT scans offer a noninvasive way for peering into solid objects and for obtaining digital information on their 3-D geometries and properties.

In fact, the paleontologists believe this region may have been ground zero for modern bird evolution, or at least a major hotspot. The hypothesis is based largely on the biogeography, the distribution of existing bird groups, an idea that dates back to the 1970s, according to Clarke.

“That idea has been around for a long time,” she said, but the fossil evidence hasn’t been collected and evaluated in a systematic fashion, as she and her team proposes to do, to put it to the test.

Case said evidence is mounting for such a scenario, especially given the Southern Hemisphere origination of lineages for penguins and ratites (such as ostriches and emus). “If you throw those lines in with [the other pre-K-T boundary lineages], it clearly begins to allow for the hypothesis, and add some strength to the idea, that somewhere deep in Gondwana, modern birds originated.”

Gondwana is the southern supercontinent that at one time included Antarctica, South America, Africa, Madagascar, Australia-New Guinea and New Zealand. By the late Cretaceous, Antarctica had moved into its current position, though still tenuously connected to Australia and South America.

The climate would have been quite moderate, according to Case. “Where today [Antarctica] seems pretty stark … back in this timeframe, it was a very rich, vibrant place,” he said. “The contrast of what it was to what it is today is pretty dramatic. I can’t think any place else on the Earth as dichotomous.

“We’re looking at cool, temperate waters, certainly not much different than what we see off the west coast of the United States, at least until you get to southern California,” he added. “We don’t expect marine reptiles to have a lot of blubber, like marine mammals do, so it’s got to be warm enough that the young with small body sizes can survive comfortably.”

Clarke said that while there appears to be good evidence emerging from the Antarctic Peninsula fossil record to suggest a Southern Hemisphere origination, she cautioned that the sampling size is still relatively small.

“We’re going to be able to be able to offer more data than has ever been put forward on what’s really in Antarctica during this time period, but we’re not going to be able to answer this question definitively,” she said.
Breaking rocks digitally

Clarke’s expertise is phylogenetic analysis from morphological data, meaning she studies the evolutionary relatedness among birds by comparing the physical changes that occur over time. A very useful tool in acquiring the data she needs for the research is a high-resolution X-ray CT scanner.

CT scans offer a noninvasive way for peering into solid objects and for obtaining digital information on their 3-D geometries and properties. High-resolution X-ray CT differs from conventional medical CAT-scanning in its ability to provide details down to the tens of microns — less than the width of a hair. The NSF supports the High-Resolution X-ray Computed Tomography Facility External Non-U.S. government site at the University of Texas at Austin (UTCT).

Clarke said the scans save time and allow scientists to manipulate the data in new ways. “CT scans are really useful in this case because a lot of the rocks in which these remains are preserved are incredibly hard,” she explained. “It’s months and months and months of moving individual sand grains to prepare these things. You can see the interiors of elements. You could see morphologies that would never be exposed even if you didn't have those tools.

“There were bones that were discovered in that Vegavis specimen that we had no idea were in there,” she added. In addition, one of her students is digitally extracting individual bones from the original Vegavis scan, which appears online like the silvery half of an oversized grapefruit, with the ancient bird bones prominently sticking out.

Work has already begun on the fossils from Argentina, Texas Tech, the South Dakota School of Mines and elsewhere. Eventually, the team plans to publish a monograph, a sort of comprehensive essay, which describes the Antarctic materials, with a photo library of all the remains with preliminary identifications, according to Clarke.

“We’re making progress,” she said.

Case said the researchers would propose further fieldwork to look specifically at bird fossils and the question of whether that part of Gondwana was indeed the cradle for modern birds.

“It’s one of the biggest questions out there right now,” he said.

NSF-funded research in this story: Julia Clarke, University of Texas at Austin, and Judd Case, Eastern Washington University, Award No. 0731404 External U.S. government site.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Discovery Raises New Doubts About Dinosaur-bird Links

During walking and running in birds, hindlimb movement is generated primarily at the knee and ankle joints; in humans, movement occurs at the knee, ankle and hip joints. The bird's thigh does not move substantially from its nearly horizontal position where it provides rigid lateral support to the thin walled air-sacs of the respiratory system. (Credit: Image courtesy of Oregon State University)

Discovery Raises New Doubts About Dinosaur-bird Links

ScienceDaily (June 9, 2009) — Researchers at Oregon State University have made a fundamental new discovery about how birds breathe and have a lung capacity that allows for flight – and the finding means it's unlikely that birds descended from any known theropod dinosaurs.

The conclusions add to other evolving evidence that may finally force many paleontologists to reconsider their long-held belief that modern birds are the direct descendants of ancient, meat-eating dinosaurs, OSU researchers say.

"It's really kind of amazing that after centuries of studying birds and flight we still didn't understand a basic aspect of bird biology," said John Ruben, an OSU professor of zoology. "This discovery probably means that birds evolved on a parallel path alongside dinosaurs, starting that process before most dinosaur species even existed."

These studies were just published in The Journal of Morphology, and were funded by the National Science Foundation.

It's been known for decades that the femur, or thigh bone in birds is largely fixed and makes birds into "knee runners," unlike virtually all other land animals, the OSU experts say. What was just discovered, however, is that it's this fixed position of bird bones and musculature that keeps their air-sac lung from collapsing when the bird inhales.

Warm-blooded birds need about 20 times more oxygen than cold-blooded reptiles, and have evolved a unique lung structure that allows for a high rate of gas exchange and high activity level. Their unusual thigh complex is what helps support the lung and prevent its collapse.

"This is fundamental to bird physiology," said Devon Quick, an OSU instructor of zoology who completed this work as part of her doctoral studies. "It's really strange that no one realized this before. The position of the thigh bone and muscles in birds is critical to their lung function, which in turn is what gives them enough lung capacity for flight."

However, every other animal that has walked on land, the scientists said, has a moveable thigh bone that is involved in their motion – including humans, elephants, dogs, lizards and – in the ancient past – dinosaurs.

The implication, the researchers said, is that birds almost certainly did not descend from theropod dinosaurs, such as tyrannosaurus or allosaurus. The findings add to a growing body of evidence in the past two decades that challenge some of the most widely-held beliefs about animal evolution.

"For one thing, birds are found earlier in the fossil record than the dinosaurs they are supposed to have descended from," Ruben said. "That's a pretty serious problem, and there are other inconsistencies with the bird-from-dinosaur theories.

"But one of the primary reasons many scientists kept pointing to birds as having descended from dinosaurs was similarities in their lungs," Ruben said. "However, theropod dinosaurs had a moving femur and therefore could not have had a lung that worked like that in birds. Their abdominal air sac, if they had one, would have collapsed. That undercuts a critical piece of supporting evidence for the dinosaur-bird link.

"A velociraptor did not just sprout feathers at some point and fly off into the sunset," Ruben said.

The newest findings, the researchers said, are more consistent with birds having evolved separately from dinosaurs and developing their own unique characteristics, including feathers, wings and a unique lung and locomotion system.

There are some similarities between birds and dinosaurs, and it is possible, they said, that birds and dinosaurs may have shared a common ancestor, such as the small, reptilian "thecodonts," which may then have evolved on separate evolutionary paths into birds, crocodiles and dinosaurs. The lung structure and physiology of crocodiles, in fact, is much more similar to dinosaurs than it is to birds.

"We aren't suggesting that dinosaurs and birds may not have had a common ancestor somewhere in the distant past," Quick said. "That's quite possible and is routinely found in evolution. It just seems pretty clear now that birds were evolving all along on their own and did not descend directly from the theropod dinosaurs, which lived many millions of years later."

OSU research on avian biology and physiology was among the first in the nation to begin calling into question the dinosaur-bird link since the 1990s. Other findings have been made since then, at OSU and other institutions, which also raise doubts. But old theories die hard, Ruben said, especially when it comes to some of the most distinctive and romanticized animal species in world history.

"Frankly, there's a lot of museum politics involved in this, a lot of careers committed to a particular point of view even if new scientific evidence raises questions," Ruben said. In some museum displays, he said, the birds-descended-from-dinosaurs evolutionary theory has been portrayed as a largely accepted fact, with an asterisk pointing out in small type that "some scientists disagree."

"Our work at OSU used to be pretty much the only asterisk they were talking about," Ruben said. "But now there are more asterisks all the time. That's part of the process of science."

Journal reference:

1. Quick et al. Cardio-pulmonary anatomy in theropod dinosaurs: Implications from extant archosaurs. Journal of Morphology, 2009; DOI: 10.1002/jmor.10752

Adapted from materials provided by Oregon State University, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.

Oregon State University. "Discovery Raises New Doubts About Dinosaur-bird Links." ScienceDaily 9 June 2009. 10 June 2009 .

Interesting, but inconclusive... so from where DID our birds evolve?

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Magellanic Penguins of Punta Tombo

Turbo the Penguin just clued me in on one fantastic new penguin blog. See it HERE

Aptenodytes patagonicus--King Penguin

Aptenodytes patagonicus
king penguin

Geographic Range

King penguins are found on island groups in the sub-Antarctic region (the South Atlantic Ocean, Indian Ocean, and southwest Pacific Ocean), including islands south of Australia, Tasmania, New Zealand, and South Africa. The limit of the breeding range is around 45 degrees south latitude to the Antarctic Convergence. Aptenodytes patagonicus do not migrate, instead individuals travel hundreds of kilometers away from breeding grounds to find food. (Carroll, 2006; Marion, 1999)

Biogeographic Regions:
atlantic ocean (native ); pacific ocean (native ).

Other Geographic Terms:
island endemic .



10 to 200 m
(32.8 to 656 ft)

King penguins establish breeding colonies on temperate-cool islands with low, bare ground (including beaches, valleys, and glacial moraines). These penguins are both terrestrial and aquatic: terrestrial while breeding in colonies and aquatic for purposes of finding food. In these colonies, the temperature is near to or below 10 degrees Celsius. Rarely are king penguins found on ice or snow covered grounds. They prefer to be close to the sea, allowing for a convenient food source. ("King Penguins - Wildlife of Antarctica - Antactic Connection", 1998; Busch Entertainment Corporation, 2002; Carroll, 2006; Sparks and Soper, 1987)

These animals are found in the following types of habitat:
temperate; polar; terrestrial; saltwater or marine .

Aquatic Biomes:

Physical Description

11000 to 15000 g; avg. 13000 g
(387.2 to 528 oz; avg. 457.6 oz)

85 to 95 cm
(33.46 to 37.4 in)

Basal Metabolic Rate

Aptenodytes patagonicus is closely related to Aptenodytes forsteri, emperor penguins. Adult king penguins are smaller than emperor penguins, measuring between 85 and 95 cm tall. Males are generally taller than females, otherwise they are monomorphic. They weight from 11 to 15 kg. King penguins have a rounded body, silvery-grey back, and a dark (blackish-brown) head. They are known for their bright-orange ear patch and for the bright-pink patch on the mandible, which is larger than that of emperor penguins. They use their white and black flippers, or wings, for swimming and their black feet for walking on land, as they cannot fly. Aptenodytes patagonicus is more slender in the body and has a longer bill than emperor penguins. Their dense plumage protects them from bitter, sub-Antarctic weather and consists of four layers: the outer layer is oily and waterproof and encloses three downy layers for insulation. ("King Penguin", 2006; "King Penguins - Wildlife of Antarctica - Antactic Connection", 1998; Marion, 1999)

Some key physical features:
endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry .

Sexual dimorphism: sexes alike.


Breeding interval
King penguins breed two times every 3 years, during the winter.

Breeding season
The breeding season for king penguins takes place during the winter. Eggs can be laid anytime from November through April.

Eggs per season
1 (average)

Time to hatching
8 weeks (average)

Time to fledging
9 months (average)

Time to independence
12 to 14 months

Age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
4 to 5 years

Age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
4 to 5 years

On arrival at a rookery, Aptenodytes patagonicus individuals use a variety of ways to attract a mate. Males will open their flippers and emit a call while stretching its head up, throwing the head back, and finally bowing. A female then chooses the male she wants to mate with by answering his call. King penguins are monogamous within the breeding season and are likely to breed with the same mate over successive breeding seasons unless one of the pair dies. (Carroll, 2006; Marion, 1999)

Mating systems:
monogamous .

King penguins have a long breeding season (14 to 16 months), compared to other penguin species. They breed twice every three years. Each time they breed they lay one egg. The breeding season for king penguins takes place during the winter. Eggs are laid anytime from November through April. The incubation period is around 54 days. It takes about 9 months for the chick to be fully fledged and up to 14 months to become independent. ("King Penguins - Wildlife of Antarctica - Antactic Connection", 1998; Carroll, 2006; Sparks and Soper, 1987; Woehler, 2001)

Key reproductive features:
iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; oviparous .

When the female king penguin lays her egg, she delicately passes it to her mate. The male incubates the egg for about 19 days, while the female is foraging at sea. When the female returns, the parents take turns incubating the egg until hatching, with each parent spending two to three weeks at a time incubating the egg while the other is foraging. Once the chick has hatched, both parents take care of the young. (Marion, 1999)

Penguin chicks are not able to regulate their body temperature when first hatched, they are brooded by both parents alternately. It takes about 3 weeks until the chick can be left alone. The parents take turns caring for the chick 3 to 4 days at a time. Once the chick is able to fend for itself, it joins neighboring chicks in a large group, or creche, for protection. Parents then bring their chick food every 2 to 3 days until the chick is fully fledged, in 43 to 60 weeks. (Marion, 1999)

Parental investment:

altricial ; pre-fertilization (provisioning, protecting: female); pre-hatching/birth (provisioning: female, protecting: male, female); pre-weaning/fledging (provisioning: male, female, protecting: male, female); pre-independence (provisioning: male, female, protecting: male, female).


Extreme lifespan (wild)
26 years (high)

Extreme lifespan (captivity)
41 years (high)

Typical lifespan (captivity)

The lifespan of Aptenodytes patagonicus in the wild is not well known. Average lifespan in the wild is estimated at 15 to 20 years. The oldest king penguin in captivity reached 41 years old. ("Levensverwachting of ouderdom", 2005; "The Penguin", 2002; Francois, 2002)

King penguins form large groups on seven main islands in sub-Antarctic region. These colonies range in size from 30 to thousands of penguin pairs. Aptenodytes patagonicus is a highly social species and individuals rarely fight. (Carroll, 2006; Woehler, 2001)

Aptenodytes patagonicus moves on land by foot and moves through the water using its wings, more commonly known as flippers. Because of its sleek body frame this penguin walks on land fairly well and does not hop around like emperor penguins. King penguins breed on land and travel great distances from their rookeries to find food. They are well adapted to the sea because of their morphology; they use a lot less energy traveling underwater than on land. (Carroll, 2006; Marion, 1999; Woehler, 2001)

When temperatures get too cold, these penguins increase metabolic heat production through shivering thermogenesis. In extremely cold temperatures these penguins also huddle together in rookeries, protecting both themselves and the young from the cold. (Marion, 1999)
Home Range

The home range for A. patagonicus is not known. However, they will travel hundreds of kilometers to find food.

Key behaviors:
terricolous; diurnal ; motile ; nomadic ; social ; colonial .
Communication and Perception

When king penguins arrive and depart from a breeding colony, they use acoustic and visual signals to communicate to mates. Acoustic signals are courtship calls between mates. Visual signals consist of a series of bows and neck movements. (Carroll, 2006)

Communicates with:
visual; acoustic.

Perception channels:
visual; tactile; acoustic; chemical.

Food Habits

King penguins hunt in groups. They travel hundreds of kilometers to find food. During warm, summer conditions they find food 10 to 200 meters below the ocean surface. In the winter their prey move to deeper waters, requiring king penguins to dive deeper. King penguins fast while on land caring for their young and replenish their reserves through foraging trips. Their diet is composed mostly of fish and cephalopods. (Marion, 1999; Prevost and Gill, 1995)

Primary Diet:

carnivore (piscivore , molluscivore).

Animal Foods:
fish; mollusks; aquatic crustaceans.

Known predators

* leopard seals (Hydrurga leptonyx)
* killer whales (Orcinus orca)
* skuas (Stercorariidae)
* sheathbills (Chionis)
* giant petrels (Macronectes giganteus)

King penguins are prey for leopard seals and killer whales that wait beneath the surface of the water. Shorebirds, such as skuas, sheathbills, and giant petrels, prey on king penguin eggs and young chicks while these are unattended by adults. ("King Penguins - Wildlife of Antarctica - Antactic Connection", 1998; Sparks and Soper, 1987)

Ecosystem Roles

In marine ecosystems of the southern oceans, king penguins impact populations of fish and crustaceans. (Carroll, 2006)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse effects of Aptenodytes patagonicus on humans. ("King Penguins - Wildlife of Antarctica - Antactic Connection", 1998)
Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

During the 19th and 20th centuries, poachers used king penguin oil, flesh, and eggs for fuel, food, and clothing. Laws against poaching were formed by the International Ornithological Congress in 1905 and by the Antarctic Treaty in 1959. ("King Penguins - Wildlife of Antarctica - Antactic Connection", 1998)

Ways that people benefit from these animals:
food ; body parts are source of valuable material.

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List:
Least Concern.

US Migratory Bird Act:
No special status.

US Federal List:
No special status.

No special status.

Aptenodytes patagonicus is a species of least concern according to the IUCN. There are currently two million king penguin breeding pairs. They have been harmed by human-influenced disasters, such as oil spills. ("King Penguins - Wildlife of Antarctica - Antactic Connection", 1998; Woehler, 2001)


Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology.

Megan Korc (author), Kalamazoo College. Ann Fraser (editor, instructor), Kalamazoo College.


2006. "2006 IUCN Red list of threatened species" (On-line). Accessed October 15, 2006 at

2006. "Birds protected by the migratory bird treaty act" (On-line). Accessed October 15, 2006 at

2006. "Convention on international trade in endangered species of wild fauna and flora" (On-line). Accessed October 15, 2006 at

2006. "King Penguin" (On-line). Accessed October 15, 2006 at

1998. "King Penguins - Wildlife of Antarctica - Antactic Connection" (On-line). Accessed October 15, 2006 at

2005. "Levensverwachting of ouderdom" (On-line). Accessed October 15, 2006 at

2006. "Michigan's special animals" (On-line). Accessed October 15, 2006 at

2006. "Species information: Threatened and endangered animals and plants" (On-line). Accessed October 15, 2006 at

2002. "The Penguin" (On-line). Creature of the Month. Accessed October 15, 2006 at

Busch Entertainment Corporation. 2002. "Diet and eating habits" (On-line). Accessed November 15, 2006 at

Carroll, P. 2006. "The King Penguin (Aptenodytes patagonica)" (On-line). Accessed October 15, 2006 at

Francois, J. 2002. "World's oldest captive penguin dies" (On-line). Accessed October 15, 2006 at

Marion, R. 1999. Penguins: A worldwide guide. New York, NY: Sterling Publishing Company, Inc.

Prevost, J., F. Gill. 1995. "Penguin" (On-line). Encyclopedia Britannica Article. Accessed October 15, 2006 at

Sparks, J., T. Soper. 1987. Penguins. New York, NY: Facts On File Publications.

Woehler, E. 2001. "King Penguin: 10 Facts" (On-line). Accessed October 15, 2006 at
2009/05/31 01:48:13.579 GMT-4

To cite this page: Korc, M. and A. Fraser. 2006. "Aptenodytes patagonicus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed June 05, 2009 at

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

How scientists can now find penguins all around Antarctica

How scientists can now find penguins all around Antarctica - by tracking their droppings by satellite...

By Eddie Wrenn
Last updated at 8:12 AM on 02nd June 2009

When penguins get a call of nature, they're generally not too fussy where they go.

And as they may stay in the same area for up to eight months at a time, the ice under their feet can lose its pure white lustre by the time they move on.

Luckily, scientists have a reason to be excited over the excrement, using the reddish-brown areas of guano (sea bird poo) to plot the movements of emperor penguin breeding colonies.

Experts used satellite images to survey sea ice around 90per cent of Antarctica's coast, and were able to identify a total of 38 colonies, including 10 that were new, by looking for the tell-tale patches.

Of the previously known colonies, six had re-located and six were not found.

Experts need to track the movements of emperor penguins to monitor their response to climate change.

Mapping expert Peter Fretwell, from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), said: 'We can't see actual penguins on the satellite maps because the resolution isn't good enough.

'But during the breeding season the birds stay at a colony for eight months. The ice gets pretty dirty and it's the guano stains that we can see.'

Emperor penguins guarding their chicks in Antartica - but not caring too much about nappy changes

New and existing colonies have been mapped thanks to guano trails

Emperor penguins, identifiable by gold patches around their ears and chest, spend a large part of their lives at sea.

During the Antarctic winter when temperatures drop to minus 50C they return to their colonies to breed on sea-ice, but this is the time they are most difficult to monitor.

BAS penguin ecologist Dr Phil Trathan said: 'This is a very exciting development. Now we know exactly where the penguins are, the next step will be to count each colony so we can get a much better picture of population size.

Using satellite images combined with counts of penguin numbers puts us in a much better position to monitor future population changes over time.'

This research, reported in the journal Global Ecology and Biogeography, builds on work by French scientists who extensively studied one penguin colony and found the population was at significant risk from climate change.

The six colonies not found in the new study were at a similar latitude, suggesting emperor penguins may be at risk around the whole of Antarctica.


Penguin Poo Visible from Space

Scientists have located dozens of emperor penguin breeding colonies in Antarctica, after spotting large amounts of the bird's droppings on pictures taken from space.

This satellite image shows white Antarctic ice stained brown by Emperor penguin guano in Atka Bay in the northern part of Antarctica Photo: AP

Satellite images have picked up giant red-brown stains on the pristine white sea ice, indicating the presence of thousands of penguins.

It meant that researchers for the British Antarctic Survey were able to locate every colony on the continent for the first time ever.

The in-depth satellite survey identified 38 breeding colonies - believed to amount to between 200,000 and 400,000 breeding pairs of emperor penguins.

Until now it has been difficult to accurately estimate the population of emperor penguins because scientists have not been able to track them during the winter breeding season.

Researchers now hope by tracking the penguin colonies they can monitor the impact of climate change, which threatens to wipe out 95 per cent of the population by 2100.

Emperor penguins spend a large part of their life at sea and during the Antarctic winter, when temperatures drop to -58F (-50 C), they return to their colonies to breed on sea-ice.

This makes it extremely difficult for scientists to follow them and means previous knowledge on the number and distribution of emperor penguin colonies was poor.

The survey, published today (Tues) in the Global Ecology and Biogeography journal, reveal ten new colonies have appeared while six previously-known ones have relocated.

Peter Fretwell, co-author of the study and geographic information officer at British Antarctic Survey, said his chance discovery would revolutionise the way scientists monitored penguins.

He said: "This is the first part of an ongoing study. Now we can locate the colonies we will be able to go out and get an accurate count of the total breeding population.

"It was a very serendipitous discovery and a chance encounter when I realised I could see the stains.

"They look like reddy-brown stains on the sea ice, which is formed every year in the Antarctic winter and usually looks absolutely pristine and white.

"No other birds breed on the sea ice and each colony can have tens of thousands of birds in it.

"Emperor penguins are quite big birds and it gets quite messy and very smelly.

"Sometimes I think remote sensing is the best way to monitor them as you really don't want to get too close."

Mr Fretwell had been mapping a British Antarctic Survey base near the Halley station on the Brunt ice shelf in October 2008 when he noticed a brown stain on the satellite images.

He said: "It was a bit of a eureka moment. I realised if I could see this colony with satellites I should be able to see more."

Using a satellite mosaic of Antarctica Mr Fretwell and his colleagues managed to survey 90 per cent of the Antarctic coast.