Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

ECOVIEWS: Roadside Assistance and Other Penguin-Related Issues

Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

ECOVIEWS: Roadside Assistance and Other Penguin-Related Issues

Article excerpt

Penguins! 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?

"Penguins" 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 would expect.

Only 17 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.

The emperor penguin of Antarctica is the largest living penguin species, with both males and females being up to 4 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 5 1/2 feet and weights of almost 300 pounds! …

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