Spheniscus humboldti inhabit the coastal regions of Peru and Chile. These regions are temperate in climate (Welch 1994). These birds are well known in the Humboldt current from Peru to south of Chile on the coast and offshore islands (Villouta, et al., 1997).
Biogeographic Regions: neotropical (Native )
Spheniscus humboldti are black and white in color with pink around the eyes and on the beak. The feet are webbed and serve as a rudder. There are also claws at the end of the toes for climbing. The feathers are in two layers. The top layer is flat and overlaps the second layer to stop the wind and water from penetrating to the body. The second down layer is for insulation. The wings evolved into flippers for flying through the water. The bones are solid and act as a ballast while diving (The Smithsonian Zoo 2001). The body is in the shape of a streamlined torpedo covered by the short waterproof feathers (Chicago Zoological Society 1999). They are able to swim swiftly through the water by the aid of hard flippers or wings (The Aquatic Creatures 2002). Spheniscus humboldti is also called the Peruvian penguin. It is 38 to 45 centimeters (18 to 15 inches) in height and weighs about 4 kg (9 pounds) (The Smithsonian Zoo 2001).
Average mass: 4000 g.
Range length: 38 (low) cm.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry
On land Spheniscus humboldti lives in burrows composed of soil and rock or in crevices in rocks (Welch 1994). Spheniscus humboldti breed in large colonies. They spend most of their time at sea and rarely come back to land (Chicago Zoological Society 1999).
Range depth: 1000 (high) m.
Habitat Regions: temperate ; polar ; saltwater or marine
Aquatic Biomes: coastal
Habitat and Ecology
Spheniscus humbldti are inshore feeders; they forage for small fish and crustaceans. They circle around the prey and attack from the side swallowing it head first (Welch 1994). The mouth and tongue have backward pointed spines to hold fish (The Smithsonian Zoo 2001). El Nino storms destroy large regions of nesting areas by causing rough surf that washes away nests. The affects on the temperature of the sea is an increase which can reduce the food supply (Chicago Zoological Society 1999).
Animal Foods: fish; aquatic crustaceans
Primary Diet: carnivore (Piscivore , Eats non-insect arthropods)
Spheniscus humboldti live on the coast and gather soil, rocks, and sometimes grasses, to build their nests. These nests are created using their wings and feet to push and mold a nest (Welch 1994).
Ecosystem Impact: creates habitat
Humboldt penguins are are very agile when swimming. This is their only defense against predators (The Smithsonian Zoo 2001). When in the water they can be eaten by leopard seals, fur seals, sea lions, sharks, and killer whales. On land, foxes, snakes, and introduced predators like cats and dogs can prey on the eggs and chicks (Busch Entertainment Corp. 2000). Spheniscus humboldti get entangled in fishing nets as well (Chicago Zoological Society 1999).
- humans (Homo sapiens)
- leopard seals (Hydrurga leptonyx)
- sharks (Chondrichthyes)
- killer whales (Orcinus orca)
- foxes (Canidae)
- snakes (Serpentes)
- domestic cats (Felis silvestris)
- domestic dogs (Canis lupus familiaris)
- fur seals (Otariidae)
- sea lions (Otariidae)
Life History and Behavior
Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
The average life span is 15 to 20 years for Spheniscus humboldti and there is a high mortality rate among the young (Busch Entertainment Corp. 2000).
One male breeds with one female during the mating season (Busch Entertainment Corp. 2000).
Mating System: monogamous
The most abundant breeding happens around the availability of food and of breeding sites. Egg laying occurs throughout the year (Welch 1994). Once a mate is acquired the pair initiates copulation after displays of behavior (The Smithsonian Zoo 2001). Spheniscus humboldti begin breeding at about three years of age. The male arrives at the nesting area a few days before the female to prepare the breeding site. The female arrives and lays two white eggs that she incubates for 39 days (Chicago Zoological Society 1999). The major causes of egg loss are from flooding of nests during ocean storms, accidental breakage, and clutch desertion and predation by gulls (International Conservation Work Group 2001). Chicks poke a small hole through the egg then chip the shell off. This can take up to three days. (Busch Entertainment Corp. 2000).
Breeding season: Breeding occurs throughout the year.
Average eggs per season: 2.
Average time to hatching: 39 days.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 3 years.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 3 years.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; year-round breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; oviparous
Chicks require attentive parents. They depend on the parents for survival between hatching and growing waterproof feathers. Once a chick has done this it can enter the water and become independent (Busch Entertainment Corp. 2000).
Parental Investment: altricial ; male parental care ; female parental care
Physiology and Cell Biology
Kin-recognition using olfactory cues
Most birds are thought to have severely reduced sense of smell comparated to other vertebrates. Recent experiments, however, suggest that both Humboldt Penguins and Zebra Finches can distinguish the odors of their relatives from those of non-relatives. In the penguin experiment (Coffin et al. 2011), birds preferred the scent of familiar non-relatives such as nest mates. Young finches, on the other hand, prefer the scent of their genetic parents even when raised in foster nests (Krause et al. 2012).
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Spheniscus humboldti
Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.
See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.
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Download FASTA File
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Spheniscus humboldti
Public Records: 1
Specimens with Barcodes: 2
Species With Barcodes: 1
In 1981 the U.S. department of Interior declared Spheniscus humboldti endangered. Today Spheniscus humboldti are only used illegally (Welch 1994).
US Migratory Bird Act: protected
US Federal List: endangered
CITES: appendix i
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: vulnerable
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
Date Listed: 09/02/2010
Lead Region: Foreign (Region 10)
Where Listed: Entire
Population location: Entire
Listing status: T
For most current information and documents related to the conservation status and management of Spheniscus humboldti , see its USFWS Species Profile
CITES Appendix I. CMS Appendix I. In Chile there is a 30-year moratorium (from 1995) on hunting and capture, and the four major colonies (not including intertidal and marine areas) are protected (Vilina et al. 1995, Cheney 1998). In Peru, 12 of the principal colonies are legally protected by the government institute managing guano extraction (American Bird Conservancy in litt. 2007). There are walls and guards at some sites, and extraction is designed to have a minimal impact at Punta San Juan (Cheney 1998, P. Majluf in litt. 1999). Campaigning has prevented the construction of one coal mine at Punta Choros, though two more may still be built (G. Knauf in litt. 2009). Conservation Actions Proposed
Monitor the population throughout its breeding range (Ellis et al. 1998). Protect breeding sites and regulate guano harvesting (Ellis et al. 1998). Create marine reserves around colonies (Ellis et al. 1998). Establish awareness programmes around key colonies to reduce hunting and bycatch (Ellis et al. 1998, American Bird Conservancy in litt. 2007). Reduce fish harvests around major colonies (American Bird Conservancy in litt. 2007) and elsewhere during ENSO events (Ellis et al. 1998). Improve waste treatment in coastal regions (Ellis et al. 1998).
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Humans collect the eggs of Spheniscus humboldti (Chicago Zoological Society 1999). In the nineteenth century penguin skins were used to make caps, slippers, and purses. The feathers were used for clothing decorations. Extraction of oil from the penguins fat layers was economically important; the oil was used for lighting, tanning leather, and fuel. Spheniscus humboldti guano had a value as nitrogen rich fertilizer (Busch Entertainment Corp. 2000).
Positive Impacts: produces fertilizer
The Humboldt penguin (Spheniscus humboldti) (also termed Chilean penguin, or patranca) is a South American penguin, that breeds in coastal Chile and Peru. Its nearest relatives are the African penguin, the Magellanic penguin and the Galápagos penguin. The penguin is named after the cold water current it swims in, which is itself named after Alexander von Humboldt, an explorer.
Humboldt penguins are medium-sized penguins, growing to 56–70 cm (22–28 in) long and a weight of 3.6-5.9 kg (8-13 lbs). They have a black head with a white border that runs from behind the eye, around the black ear-coverts and chin, and joins at the throat. They have blackish-grey upperparts and whitish underparts, with a black breast-band that extends down the flanks to the thigh. They have a fleshy-pink base to the bill. Juveniles have dark heads and no breast-band. They have spines on their tongue which they use to hold their prey.
Range and habitat
Humboldt penguins nest on islands and rocky coasts, burrowing holes in guano and sometimes using scrapes or caves. In South America the Humboldt penguin is found only along the Pacific coast, and the range of the Humboldt penguin overlaps that of the Magellanic penguin on the central Chilean coast. It is vagrant in Ecuador and Colombia.
Due to a declining population caused in part by over-fishing, climate change, and ocean acidification, the current status of the Humboldt penguin is threatened. Historically it was the victim of guano over-exploitation. Penguins are also declining in numbers due to habitat destruction including by invasive species. The current population is estimated at between 3,300 and 12,000. In August 2010 the Humboldt penguin of Chile and Peru, was granted protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
Raising of young
In 2009 at a zoo in Bremerhaven, Germany, two adult male Humboldt penguins adopted an egg that had been abandoned by its biological parents. After the egg hatched, the two male penguins raised, protected, cared for, and fed the chick in the same manner that regular penguin couples raise their own biological offspring. A further example of this kind of behavior came in 2014, whem Jumbs and Hurricane, 2 Humboldt Penguins at Wingham Wildlife Park became the center of international media attention as 2 male penguins who had pair bonded a number of years earlier and then successfully hatched and reared an egg given to them as surrogate parents after the mother abandoned it half way through incubation.
Escape from Tokyo Zoo
One of the 135 Humboldt penguins from Tokyo Sea Life Park (Kasai Rinkai Suizokuen) thrived in Tokyo Bay for 82 days after apparently scaling the 13 feet high wall and through the fence into the bay. The penguin, known only by its number (#337), was recaptured by the zoo keepers in late May 2012.
A pair "kissing" at Cotswold Wildlife Park
At Dublin Zoo
Humboldt penguin during moult at the Cornish Seal Sanctuary
- BirdLife International (2013). "Spheniscus humboldti". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
- "Invalid license key". .philadelphiazoo.org. Retrieved 2012-02-12.
- "Humboldt Penguin - Spheniscus humboldti: WAZA: World Association of Zoos and Aquariums". WAZA. Retrieved 2012-02-12.
- "Humboldt penguins from the International Penguin Conservation Web Site". Penguins.cl. Retrieved 2012-02-12.
- C. Michael Hogan (2008) Magellanic Penguin, GlobalTwitcher.com, ed. N. Stromberg
- Five Penguins Win U.S. Endangered Species Act Protection Turtle Island Restoration Network
- "BBC News - Gay Penguins in Kent zoo are the best parents". BBC. 2014-05-14. Retrieved 2014-09-07.
- 'Escape' into the Tokyo Bay, CNN, May 17, 2012
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