Three baby Gentoo Penguins are warming the hearts of Tennessee Aquarium guests this summer. Like the Macaroni Penguin, which was the first to hatch at the Aquarium in 2015, this trio has made remarkable progress since they first arrived at the end of June.
Two of the chicks are actually siblings, but are being raised by different penguin mothers. “When Bug and Big T’s first egg hatched, they were having a tough time keeping both the second egg and the chick underneath them,” said senior aviculturist Loribeth Lee. “Biscuit and Blue did not have a viable egg this year, so we were able to move the second egg into their nest. It hatched a couple of days later and they have done a beautiful job caring for their adopted chick.”
This is the first time a baby penguin has been raised at the Aquarium by surrogate parents. In the past, aviculturists have supplemented feedings for any chicks that were not receiving enough nourishment from their parents. “We always prefer to let the parents raise their chicks, but we’ll intervene whenever necessary,” said Lee. “Since Biscuit and Blue have been diligent parents in the past, we believed they would do a great job caring for Bug and Big T’s chick and they have.”
In addition to their rapid growth, the three newest Gentoos are now showing their individuality. The experts caring for them say these penguins have personalities that range from passive to positively pecky. “The chick in Biscuit and Blue’s nest acts pretty mellow, preferring to hide its head under mom or dad,” said Lee. “Bug and Big T’s other chick is pretty perky and active, but nothing like Nipper’s chick. He acts feisty just like his father and loves to bite and squawk a lot.”
These traits will be interesting for Aquarium guests to watch over time. Lee and the other experts spend quite a bit of time pointing out the chicks and talking about their lives during penguin programs, which take place at 10:30am and 1:30pm each day.
The gender of the penguin chicks will be determined later this fall when every bird in the colony undergoes a thorough physical examination. A blood sample will be collected from the juvenile birds that will be sent to a lab for DNA testing to determine whether the new additions are male or female. A naming contest on the Aquarium’s Facebook page will begin after the genders are announced.
The Gentoo Penguin is a medium-sized species found on the rocky islands of sub-Antarctic Ocean. They are easily distinguished by the white bonnet-like marking across the top of their heads. They breed on many sub-Antarctic islands, with the main colonies found on the Falkland Island, South Georgia and the Kerguelen Islands. Smaller populations are also found on Macquarie Island, Heard Islands, South Shetland Islands, and the Antarctic Peninsula.
The Gentoo Penguin is the third largest species, behind the King and Emperor Penguins. Adults reach heights up to 90cm (35 in.) and a max weight of about 8.5 kg (19 lb.). They are the fastest underwater swimming penguins, reaching speeds of about 22 mph.
Gentoos live mainly on crustaceans, such as krill, with fish making up only about 15% of their diet. In the water, sea lions, leopard seals, and killer whales are all predators of the Gentoo.
The Gentoo Penguin is currently classified as “Near Threatened” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species due to a rapid decline in some key populations, which is believed to be driving a moderate overall decline in the species.