Penguins, Boulders Beach, Simons Town

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Penguins, Boulders Beach, Simons Town

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Penguins are flightless, aquatic birds, which live in the southern oceans in climates as varied as Antarctica and the Galapagos Islands on the equator. There are seventeen species in all but the African Penguin is the only one to inhabit the African continent and its inshore islands. It used to be known as the Jackass Penguin, on account of the braying sounds which it makes on land, but the name 'African Penguin' has now been adopted to distinguish it from the Jackass Penguin found in South America, which is slightly different in appearance and behaviour. Another name that is occasionally used is the Blackfooted Penguin.

The closest relatives of the African penguin are, in fact, the Humboldt and Magellanic penguins of South America and the Galapagos penguins of the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador. Penguins are ancient birds, probably evolving about 65 million years ago, at the time that dinosaurs became extinct. Since penguins are well adapted to the cold, the South American and African penguins feel the heat on land and have evolved various ways to cope with the sun. African penguins have a black stripe curving across the top of the chest. They are insulated by air trapped between their feathers. This makes the birds extremely vulnerable when they are moulting, which they do annually, and for this period of about three weeks (at Boulders about November) they are land-bound, getting thinner and more bedraggled until the moulting process is completed. Before moulting they eat hugely and put on about 30% more fat.

Penguin Boulders BeachMoulting takes about three weeks, during which their weight almost halves. Although the African penguins are quaintly clumsy on land, and ungraceful emerging from the water, in the sea they are extremely skilful swimmers, reputedly reaching speeds of 24 kilometres (15 miles) per hour. Rather than using their feet to swim, as many aquatic birds do, they use their wings that have been modified to form extremely efficient flippers. Their webbed feet are used mainly when swimming on the surface of the water. Their feathers have become very small and waterproofed, overlapping to provide better insulation. The African and South American penguins have shorter feathers than the Antarctic birds, since they do not face such great cold. Penguins also have heavier bones than most birds to enable them to dive. African penguins live an average of 10 to 11 years but sometimes reach as much as 24 years.