Thursday, November 29, 2012

Gentoo penguin chicks born at Moody Gardens

By Jennifer Pearson | Updated: November 29, 2012

Senior biologist Hector Moral holds two newly hatched Gentoo penguin chicks as he takes them back to their mother after weighing them at Moody Gardens Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012, in Galveston. The chicks were born over the Thanksgiving holiday. Photo: Brett Coomer, Houston Chronicle / © 2012 Houston Chronicle
GALVESTON - They weigh next to nothing. Their genders are unknown. And they're not even originally from these parts.

But one thing is certain about the two recently born gentoo penguins at Moody Gardens Aquarium Pyramid: They're darn cute.

The chicks were born Thanksgiving weekend at Moody Gardens, weighing in at a minuscule 23.4 and 11.8 grams, respectively.

Their arrival marks the eighth year of successful breeding of the aquarium's gentoo population. Gentoos, native to Antarctica, are known for their white-feather caps and colorful feet and beaks.
"We first discovered these guys in mid-October, and we were sort of keeping an eye out for them to hatch," Moody Gardens spokeswoman Stephanie Chan said. "As our biologists were cleaning and changing out the light bulbs and doing their daily routines on Thanksgiving Day, they noticed a chick when one of the parents stood up. The little guy just popped out."

Two days later, a smaller sibling hatched and burrowed into the warmth of its parents' protection. The chicks currently weigh 344 and 165 grams.

'Christmas tradition'

Facilities with penguins in captivity have generally good breeding results. During this year's mating season, staff members witnessed and captured the species' various mating rituals on video, including bowing and the collecting of stones for nests. Gentoos are easy to spot in the penguin exhibit because of their distinctive yellow feet.

"It's kind of a Christmas tradition here. We have chicks around Christmastime each year, and we fully expect these chicks are going to do very well," said assistant curator Diane Olsen. "They're going to grow up to be adults here in the next few months, and they'll join the colony with all the other birds."
The chicks are expected to be fully grown in eight weeks. Identifying the gender of gentoo penguins is extremely difficult because of their identical features. Feather samples will be used to test DNA to confirm their genders.

Because Moody Gardens is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the pair could be sent to other facilities throughout the country to promote breeding. But for now, they're best left to the care of their parents.

"The chicks are on exhibit for guests to see, and if they come and look in the center, they can see the chicks," Olsen said. "You might see the parents feeding them, so we encourage everyone to come to Moody Gardens and take a look."


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