African Penguins” will be open through April 22 in an outdoor exhibit on the Aquarium’s riverfront courtyard. It’s free with admission. The small colony of penguins will be on loan from the Leo Zoological Conservation Center in Greenwich (www.LEOzoo.org).
Educating visitors on where penguins live may be one of the first basic goals of the exhibit. None of them live at the North Pole, or with Eskimos or polar bears. Some species do live in Antarctica. But many penguins can be found in warmer climates of the southern hemisphere, like African penguins in South Africa and several species that live up the western coast of South America, all the way to the equator and the Galapagos Islands.
The African penguins – whose conservation status is listed as endangered – will help call attention to Africa’s troubled coastal environments, which receive far less conservation protection than the continent’s inland savannahs, plains and jungles.
African penguins (Spheniscus demersus) stand about two feet tall and weigh 8 pounds. They’re recognizable by the black stripe that loops up across their chest and their pink “eyebrows.” The pink “eyebrows” actually are an adaptation that helps them to survive in a warmer habitat like South Africa – or Norwalk. The “eyebrows” are featherless patches with lots of blood vessels underneath. When a penguin gets too hot, these patches get brighter as the penguin circulates more blood there to dissipate body heat.
African penguins also have evolved shorter feathers because, unlike Antarctic species, they do not face extreme cold.