Balding Cure...For Penguins

Balding Cure...For Penguins

Alisa Opar
Published: 11/17/2009

Salimfadhley, Wikimedia CommonsPierre, a 25-year-old African penguin, was starting to drop his feathers, and bald patches were appearing on his head. Worse, the patriarch began to lose his respected status in the colony, and the other penguins were shunning him. “He was losing the features penguins use to recognize species and sexual maturity,” says Pamela Schaller, a senior aquatic biologist at the California Academy of Sciences, where Pierre lives. Penguins can survive 15 years in the wild and about 20 in captivity. The extraordinary graybeard was also having a hard time staying warm when he went swimming. Schaller soon outfitted Pierre in a custom-made neoprene vest, so he could stay with his buds in the tank. Amazingly, Pierre’s feathers soon grew back, and he was able to shed the wetsuit after six weeks. Schaller speculates that all of Pierre’s calories were being spent trying to stay warm, so he didn’t have the extra oomph needed to grow feathers. The wetsuit took the stress off his body. “Pierre looks healthy and strong,” she says. He also regained his status in the colony.—Ted O’Callahan, from Audubon magazine
(Image: User:Salimfadhley, Wikimedia Commons)