Penguins are quite possibly the most adorable creatures ever to waddle the earth. While most people associate our tuxedoed friends with snow and ice, the African penguin is partial to a more temperate climate hence colonies are dotted along the continent’s south-western offshore islands. Throughout the year local and international visitors to Cape Town make their way to Boulders Beach in Simons Town to get up close but not too personal with a protected colony of these delightful seabirds. Many come away with more than a few surprising facts some of which are listed below.
Till death us do part
African penguins start breeding between the age of two and six when a male and female enter a courtship for life. They are monogamous and will often return annually not just to the same colony but to the same nesting site too.
Spheniscus demerus who?
The medium-sized (when compared with other penguin species) African penguin’s scientific name is Spheniscus demerus. “Sphen” is ancient Greek for wedge and “demerus” is Latin for plunging. Stand back Michael Phelps. While they might appear awkward when they walk, their webbed feet and flipper-like wings make them skillful divers and swimmers.
Like a donkey
Also known as the Jackass penguin – no relationship to obnoxious behaviour – African penguins make an unusually loud sound for a creature a mere two feet tall. When they communicate they make a donkey-like braying call hence the nickname.
Like other birds and other penguins, African penguins have no teeth so dental health is never an issue. Instead, they have fleshy spines that line the inside of their mouths. After nabbing a fish or two with their beaks theses spines, which are also on their tongue help them to steer their fishy meals down their throat.
In the pink
In order to cope with a hotter climate, African penguins have pink patches or glands above their eyes that act as a cooling system. When temperatures rise more blood flows to the glands and is cooled by the surrounding air. The darker the pink patches, the hotter the penguin.
Masters of disguise
Like all other penguins, African penguins have a black and white tuxedo for a reason. Black on their dorsal surface (back) with white on their underside surface (belly) acts as superb camouflage. Their white bellies blend with the light when predators look up from below and their darker backs blend with the dark ocean when predators look down from above. This is called “countershading”.
See them for yourself
The Boulders Penguin Colony is easily accessible by bus, car, taxi or train from central Cape Town. Thanks to this popular and remarkable colony, visitors can freely observe these enchanting, comical flightless birds. While seemingly abundant in number in their urban colony, it is easy to forget that they are endangered and that less than 5% remain in the wild today.
Boulders Penguin Colony: Simon’s Town | +27 (0) 21 786 2329