Saving Penguins

Penguins waddle back into the ocean

In northern Brazil, 1600 Magellanic penguins were found wandering around in an emaciated state. Usually, Magellanic penguins breed in Argentina and Chile, and the juveniles migrate north between March and September in pursuit of anchovy. However, these penguins ventured hundreds of miles north of their intended feeding grounds, leaving many in a weakened physical state.  While it is normal for a few penguins to stray off track every year, the overwhelming influx of penguins this year raised enough concern that the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and other wildlife rescue groups decided to intervene.

Penguins swimming in the ocean

After rehabilitating the emaciated birds, rescue workers loaded 373 healthy penguins into crates and transported them to Pelotas, in southern Brazil, via a C-130 Hercules military plane.  The juvenile penguins were then released at Cassino Beach along with a small group of adult penguins who had been rescued from an oil spill.  It is expected that the adults will help guide the younger birds back to the feeding grounds.

According to Dr. Valeria Ruoppolo of the IFAW, “We are overjoyed to see these penguins waddle back to the ocean and have a second chance at life.”

For more information, see CNN.com: Flight of the penguins

Suicidal Ants

Adam Tofilski, a behavioral ecologist from the Agricultural University of Krakow, Poland, and his colleagues have been studying the actions of Brazilian ants (Forelius pusillus) in São Simão, Brazil.  What they have discovered is shocking.

Every night, several ants sacrifice themselves for the survival of the colony.  When most of the ants have retreated inside the nest at sunset, up to eight ants will stay outside to fill in the entrances with sand. Tofilski’s team found chances of survival were less than 25% for the stragglers, thereby making this nightly task suicidal.

Brazilian ants seal their nest from the outside every night. Photo: Tofilski et al., American Naturalist (November 2008)

Brazilian ants seal their nest from the outside every night. Photo: Tofilski et al., American Naturalist (November 2008)

Many questions arise as a result of this study.  For example, how is it determined which ants remain outside the nest?  Do the older, sicker ants sacrifice themselves for the greater good?  The researchers are also unsure who or what the Brazilian ants are protecting their nest from each night. Are they protecting the colony from army ants?

This fascinating study will be featured in the November issue of the journal American Naturalist.

For more information, see ScienceNOW Daily News: “Last Ant Standing” by Charles Choi