African black-footed penguin Spheniscus demersus
The African black-footed penguin is one of the 17 species of penguins found in the world. Of the 17, only seven are “cold weather” species. The African black-footed penguin is considered a “warm weather” penguin. If it’s below 40º, there’s a good chance our little guys and gals are inside, enjoying their toasty indoor quarters.
About the Memphis Zoo penguins
We have 21 penguins at the Memphis Zoo with 11 males and 10 females. All of our penguins have their own unique bands, with no two birds having the same color combination. Our males are banded on the RIGHT, females are banded on the LEFT. Our biggest penguin is Cameron and his weight averages around 4.2 kg (or roughly 9 pounds). The smallest penguin tends to be Nymphadora. Her average weight is 2.6 kg (or just under 6 pounds). The oldest penguin is Opus. He hatched out in January 2000. He can be easily be spotted by looking for the penguin with the largest beak. Our youngest penguin is Dexter and he hatched out in December 2020. Juvenile penguins do not get the white on their head until they have had their first molt, which is roughly 1.5 years old. In the wild, they can live 10-15 years. In captivity, they can live on average in the late 20’s/early 30’s. They are native to South Africa and Namibia.They have a patch of bare skin on their “eyebrow” that helps with thermoregulation. While they do spend quite a bit of time in the water, they are a burrowing species of penguin. They have sharp claws on their feet to help dig nests under bushes or in sand. Their clutch size is 2 eggs. Penguins are monomorphic – meaning males and females look alike. In order to tell them apart, you need to look at their DNA. This can be done by either getting a feather sample or a small blood sample. They can hold their breath for 2-3 minutes and they can dive as far as 400 feet deep. They have a clear eyelid called a nictating membrane that works like built-in goggles. They have roughly 70 feathers per square inch.All penguins will undergo a “catastrophic molt”. It is roughly a month-long process where they will gain a lot of weight and have new feathers replace the old ones. They have to replace all of their feathers roughly at once (not throughout the year like some flighted birds) because that would increase their risk of hypothermia since missing feathers would allow water to reach their skin.They are ENDANGERED! Their population has seen a 60-70% decrease over the last 3 decades due to overfishing and oil spills. Prior to those concerns, they also had to face nest disturbances (natives would eat eggs or take guano for fertilizer). Our colony’s favorite fish is silversides. They are nicknamed the “Jackass” penguin because of their donkey-like bray!
“Genevieve,” a female penguin with a solid purple band, has grey eyes. This is highly unusual for penguins, whose eyes normally turn to brown when they mature into adulthood. She has passed her grey eye trait to her offspring.
Penguins are an excellent example of countershading. If a predator is in the sky, the black of a penguin’s back might confuse them into thinking they are looking at the dark water. The white of the penguin’s belly might confuse a predator into thinking they’re looking at the white of the sky.
All black-footed penguins born here at the Memphis Zoo are hand-raised by the keepers beginning at 2-3 weeks of age.
Black-footed penguins are the species most often displayed in North American zoos and aquariums.