It’s not uncommon for visitors to our Penguin Island exhibit to take one look at a molting penguin and wonder what in the heck is going on. Are they sick? Going bald? Bad feather day?! Well we’re here to tell you that all that frumpiness is for a good reason. They’re not revolting, silly! In fact – they’re molting!
A molt occurs when a bird’s feathers are pushed out and replaced by new ones, a process resulting from hormonal and seasonal changes. Unlike other bird species that shed a few feathers during the year, once a year our little African Penguins actually undergo what is called a ‘catastrophic molt’, a 20 day period during which time each penguin loses all of its feathers at one time.
A penguin molt happens in 3 stages; a process that starts long before even a single feather is lost. Weeks before the shedding stage, penguins get to work increasing their weight – gorging on food to build up a fat reserve. All the while, the penguin’s body is producing new feathers.
During stage 2, molting penguins head to dry land and away from the water. Because along with the loss of their feathers is the loss of their necessary waterproofing! And because a wild penguin has to hunt for food, wild molting penguins would normally need to fast for 2-3 weeks during stage 2.
But here at Adventure Aquarium, our penguins continue to eat, thanks to biologists who hand feed them food so they don’t have to venture in the water for fish.
Fast forward to stage 3, during which a penguin’s new feathers come in and become waterproof – a process typically spanning about 4-10 days. Afterwards, the penguin gets back to work fattening up again and can comfortably head back into the water. And as you can see in the picture below – how completely fabulous does a penguin look after a molt?!
Now we know what you’re probably asking yourself: what about juvenile penguin Cassie (aka – Casanova)? Well, African Penguins go through their first molt at about 1 ½ -2 years old, so Cassie has a little bit more time before her first molt. However, when it does happen, it will be an exciting time for her. It means she will lose her juvenile coat and in place receive her black and while color pattern, making her look more like an adult penguin. Stay tuned!