African Penguin – Spheniscus demersus
Spheniscus Genus – Banded Penguins
Other names: Jackass Penguin, black-footed penguin
Height: 24-27 in.
Weight: 5.25-9 lb.
Life expectancy in the wild: 10-12 years.
Approximated Population: 75,000-80,000
Population tendency: Decreasing
IUCN Conservation status: EN
It’s a medium-sized species very similar to other members of the same genus. Their beak is thick and black, with some white spots on the tip.
African penguins have a black stripe that starts at the base of its beak and continues over its forehead, between the eyes up to the head and distributed all over its back, flippers, and tail. Above each eye, a white stripe rounds the head and goes down all the side of its body interrupted only at the flippers but continues down to the legs; this white band also joins in the neck area. The rest of their face is black, and a pink callous featherless area that starts at the base of the beak surrounds the upper part of the eyes.
On the chest, they have a thick horseshoe-shaped black stripe that extends down to each leg.
On the chest, they have a thick horseshoe-shaped black stripe that extends down to each leg, but the rest is white with tiny random gray spots. African penguins are visibly thinner than other penguin species due to the lower density of plumage and less fat under their skin.
Newborns have a brown plumage with light gray details on the eyes and chest. They do not show the patterns described until adulthood. Youngsters show undefined stripes and the color of their feathers are less glossy than adults.
Where do they live?
There are 29 known colonies of this species of penguin. The ones with higher populations are on Saint Croix Island, Dassen Island, Robben Island, Boulders Beach and Mercury Islands. Its distribution covers Namibia and South Africa.
African penguins adapt well in captivity because their warm environment is easy to recreate in zoos, which is the reason they are one of the most conserved penguins in these parks.
Skills and Behavior
They are social penguins that form groups to hunt. Young individuals capture prey very close to the shore, unlike adults that travel longer distances according to the availability of food. Usually, they go hunting between 25 and 50 miles away from the coast. They can dive to a depth of 328 ft during approximately 50 seconds and stay submerged as long as 142 seconds on extreme occasions. The deepest dive recorded for this species is 427 ft.
African penguins are sedentary, and they do not leave the colonies for a long time. They are not aggressive, but non-reproductive young individuals are usually the most belligerent.
Like all penguins, communication is essential for recognition of families and couples. They emit a unique sound similar to a donkey braying, which is why they are also known as “Jackass Penguin.”
African penguins produce these sounds at different volume according to the situation. They also perform other vocalizations usually accompanied by body movements such as shaking their flippers or raising their beaks.
These temperamental penguins often perform pursuits where the attacker runs with its beak forward trying to catch the other penguin.
Mutual grooming is very common among couples. In periods of intense heat, they perform group baths to decrease their body temperature. They do not alarm with human presence and can share their territory with the tourists that visit South African beaches.
Their molting process lasts 16 to 20 days.
Molting may occur anytime during the year. Immature and non-reproductive young individuals anticipate the process to those in reproductive age. The molting process lasts 16 to 20 days, and they have to stay on the beach during that time.
What do they eat?
Gregarious pelagic fish compose about two-thirds of their diet like sardines, herring, and anchovies; squid and crustaceans complement their food. While hunting, they can reach a speed up to 12.4 mph.
Sexual maturity: 4 years females, 5 years males.
Incubation period: about 40 days.
Normal clutch: Two eggs. Up to 4 per year.
African penguins are monogamous and their breeding season can start anytime during the year. Many couples breed up to twice a year.
They make nests in burrows under tree trunks, green areas with high vegetation or even outdoors. They use their claws and flippers to dig and their beaks to fill them with leaves, branches, and grass, keeping a distance between nests of 3 to 6.5 ft.
Parents provide heat to the eggs through their “brood patch,” an area of skin without feathers that comes into contact with the shell. Both parents take care of their chicks from hatching, feeding them until they can do it for themselves.
The main predators of African penguins are jackals, hyenas, seals.
The main predators of African penguins are jackals, hyenas, seals, sharks and even domestic cats. Additionally to this diverse sort of dangers, the human threats are the decrease of food availability as the result of commercial fishing, egg harvesting, oil spills, pollution, garbage, and human disturbance.
It is worth mention that these penguins usually have to deal with the presence of tourists. Although they are monitored and protected, the wind can take the garbage from human places to penguin areas, causing penguins and other animals to eat it accidentally.
African penguin range map
Salomon, David. Penguin-pedia, photographs and facts from one man’s search for the penguins pf the world. Brown Books. 2011.
BioExpedition Publishing © 2017.