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Editorial


Front Page - Friday, July 31, 2020

Two new chicks join aquarium’s penguin colony




Just two days old, a Gentoo penguin chick receives a health and nutrition check up by veterinarian Dr. Chris Keller at the Tennessee Aquarium. - Photograph provided

A pair of Gentoo penguin chicks recently hatched in the Tennessee Aquarium’s Penguins’ Rock gallery.

The eggs were laid in late April, and the chicks began to pip June 6, fully emerging from their shells June 7-8.

Since then, the babies have grown from about 150 grams each to about three kilograms (a 2,000% increase) in just a month.

Based on weekly weigh-ins and checkups by veterinary and animal care specialists, the chicks’ weight gain is well above average, even for a species that can reach full adult size in just a few months.

Covered in a thick layer of soft, downy feathers and issuing a host of hisses, peeps, trumpets and other vocalizations, these baby birds represent a first for the aquarium: One of the chicks is the offspring of parents – Roxie and Beaker – that hatched and were raised here themselves.

“This is the first time our chicks have had chicks,” says Loribeth Lee, senior aviculturist.

With these recent additions, the aquarium has hatched 24 chicks since 2009. Over the years, the Tennessee Aquarium has sent some of the birds it hatched to other facilities to ensure the population of penguins in human care are healthy and genetically robust, Lee says.

For the Aquarium’s penguin team, the arrival of chicks is the culmination of months of increased workload and added responsibilities.

The buildup begins in March, when husbandry staff clean hundreds of pounds of carefully chosen nesting rocks. After the birds begin constructing their nests, staff members must then build and place acrylic platforms and barriers to cordon off the nests from curious neighbors.

Within a few weeks, the eggs are laid and the chick watch begins in earnest.

None of the aquarium’s Macaroni penguins laid eggs this year. However, this year is the first time since 2016 that a breeding season has produced two Gentoo penguin chicks.

At about 30 days old, the chicks are about halfway to fledging, when they will leave the nest. Already more than half as tall as their parents, the chicks will begin to develop adult plumage in the coming weeks and could be ready for their first swim test in a backup area by mid-August.

By that point, they will be as tall, if not as heavy, as their parents, Lee says.

For now, the chicks’ genders are still a mystery and won’t be revealed until the results of an annual blood test are returned as part of a yearly colonywide checkup this fall.

Track the rapidly growing chicks and observe their interactions with their parents, other birds and animal care specialists at tnaqua.org/animals-exhibits/penguins-rock-cam.

Source: Tennessee Aquarium