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article imagePenguin's new suit like a second skin

By Stephanie Dearing     Aug 16, 2009 in Science
A Humboldt penguin named Ralph residing at the Marwell Wildlife Center in Hampshire, England became unexpectedly bald when moulting recently. Without his feathers, the penguin couldn't swim or keep warm, and he had no UV protection.
It's normal for birds to moult annually. For penguins, the process usually lasts one month to six weeks, which sees the birds losing some feathers. Those feathers are replaced with new feathers. But this nine-year-old Humboldt penguin lost all his feathers, and as a result was cold, had no protection from the sun and ultraviolet radiation (UV) and couldn't swim. The feathers of penguins are waterproof.
Someone at the Marwell Wildlife Center, which is home for Ralph, had the brilliant idea of making Ralph his own wetsuit, which would protect him from the sun and allow him to swim. The lucky penguin was fitted with his own personal wetsuit, which was fashioned from the leg of a human's wetsuit. From all reports, Ralph took to his new suit readily, and is once again happily swimming with his fellow penguins. The Head penguin Keeper at Marwell, David Schofield, said that the other penguins had accepted Ralph's new suit.
Humboldt penguins don't migrate. They are also called Peruvian penguins because they are found along the coasts of Peru and Chile. The species can reach speeds of up to 20 miles an hour while swimming, and eat mainly small fish and krill. They nest in burrows and live in large groups. A special gland allows them to drink salt water, and they can also drink fresh water. Like the Humboldt squid, they are named for the current in the Pacific ocean that flows northwest from South to North America.
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