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Baby penguins may come earlier at the Tennessee Aquarium

3/17/2011 3:32:05 PM

Nesting Macaroni Penguins

Attached image: The Tennessee Aquarium’s penguins will begin building nests on Monday, March 21st. This is about two weeks earlier than previous years.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                   Contact: Thom Benson 423-785-3007

Think You Have It Tough Adjusting to a Time Change? Consider Penguins.
Romance Returns a Bit Early at the Tennessee Aquarium

Chattanooga, Tenn. (March 17, 2011) - While some humans may still be feeling the effects of this week's switch to Daylight Saving Time, at least the time change doesn't trigger hair loss and an overwhelming desire to shout out your loved one's name.  But to a penguin, the light cycle dictates the life cycle. Everything from breeding to molting is controlled by the photoperiod, or the length of daylight these birds are exposed to each day. Over the past year, the lighting schedule in the Tennessee Aquarium's penguin exhibit has been gradually changed. This tiny daily time change for the gentoos and macaronis may mean baby penguins appearing earlier than past years. "The new lighting schedule allows visitors a little more viewing time in the evenings," said senior aviculturist Amy Graves. "And that subtle change is telling their bodies that it’s time to breed a little bit earlier this year. So we're going to give the penguins their rocks on March 21st which is about two weeks earlier than previous years."
 
In preparation for the new breeding season keepers, volunteers and other staff members have been putting in long hours to drain and clean the exhibit, give the birds physical exams and disinfect more than 1,000 pounds of rocks the penguins will use as nesting materials. "Even though the rocks were disinfected coming out of the exhibit last year, we need to disinfect them again," Graves said. "We also need to pick through them to ensure that none of the rocks are broken or small enough to be swallowed by the birds."
 
The fun for Aquarium visitors begins when keepers bring the "magic" rocks into the exhibit on March 21st at 1:30 pm. That's when they'll see macaronis and gentoos hopping around with rocks in their beaks, choosing just the right construction site and building nests. It's a rather raucous scene as the birds take breaks to loudly vocalize and steal rocks from one another. On top of that, there may be a squabble or two as some of the macaronis quarrel over a mate. "The gentoos are our steady Eddies," said Graves. "They should pair up with the mates they've had in the past. But the macaronis are a whole different ball game." That's because several of the female macaroni penguins think Hercules is the most dashing male of the species at the Aquarium. "So far this year he has chosen Noodle," said aviculturist Loribeth Aldrich."But we have seen other females sitting next to Hercules when Noodle's not around." So keepers say other macaroni pairs are up for grabs until Hercules starts building a nest and makes a last minute decision.
 
The biggest news may be how many chicks result from the new variables at Penguins' Rock this year. Tennessee Aquarium veterinarian Dr. Chris Keller says there's a possibility that keepers could have their hands full this year. "Theoretically as these birds age and become more mature, their skills and success with breeding and rearing their young will improve," Keller said. "So we think that this season may be more successful than past seasons."

Pepper, a female macaroni, was successfully raised by Chaos and Paulie nearly two years ago. And last season gentoos Biscuit and Blue successfully reared Shivers, also a female.

While no one at the Tennessee Aquarium wants to count penguins before they hatch, everyone is in agreement that visitors will enjoy another season of romance at Penguins' Rock. "It's so much fun to see these birds build nests and watch the drama of the penguin pairs unfold," said Aldrich. "We'll have plenty to observe as eggs and hopefully some penguin babies appear later this spring."

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