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The Green Life: Penguins on the Peninsula

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July 17, 2008

Penguins on the Peninsula

The four-foot-tall emperors of March of the Penguins fame have company in the struggle to survive on the Antarctic Peninsula. Researchers now report that tens of thousands of the more petite Adélie penguins are freezing to death in unseasonable rainstorms.

Adélie chicks--the little gray troublemakers in the video above--don't sprout water-repellent feathers until they're about 40 days old. Until then, they're likely to develop hypothermia if they get drenched. Living in a place where temperatures have risen more than 10 degrees Fahrenheit since 1950--about five times the global average--soaking wet is an increasingly common state for the birds.

But the precipitation problem for Adélies isn't just about rain. According to new research published in the current issue of American Scientist, increasing snowfall represents a second threat.

Although it may seem counterintuitive that a polar species would be adversely affected by snow, Antarctica is a polar desert with low average precipitation, and it is in this environment that Adélie penguins evolved. [...] Spring blizzards during the Adélie penguins' breeding season (November) have increased in frequency and severity. The storms kill large numbers of eggs and chicks when the snow eventually melts and floods the nests.

Want to learn more about Adélies, emperors, and other penguins? Start here.

  • PenguinScience: "Penguin cams," photos, and more from the National Science Foundation
  • Adelie Penguin Profile: Hear a penguin squawk and explore virtual worlds with National Geographic
  • Flipping Brilliant: A book of penguin-inspired advice on fashion, relationships, and social graces  

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