If you’ve visited the Biodôme lately, you’ve probably noticed how funny-looking some of the penguins are. It’s because they’re going through their molting period, which will be ending soon – and they’ll be that much better-looking when it’s over!
Losing their feathers…
In penguins the molt is an essential transitional period, which allows them to renew feathers that are worn out from being groomed and from contact with water and sunshine. It happens every year, at a different time for each species, and also for different durations:
- in September and October for king penguins;
- in January and February for Gentoo penguins;
- in February for macaroni penguins;
- in February and March for rockhopper penguins.
A new feather grows under the old one, which falls out only when the growth of the one replacing it is completed. This gives penguins something of a ridiculous appearance as long as their transformation lasts.
Not everything about a molt is funny!
Other body changes take place. During the pre-molting period, which can last from one to three weeks, the penguin’s appetite increases considerably: at this time they can gulp down up to four times their normal daily ration! Their feathers lose their luster and become drab and unkempt. Their flippers, the first targets of the molt, fill with blood and can as much as triple in volume, becoming very sensitive to the touch. A temporary ring, which will not interfere in the least with the expansion of the flipper, is then substituted for the normal identity ring on each penguin. But not to worry: as penguins are used to daily handling, this change doesn’t cause any stress.
A brand new plumage
The molt begins when the first feathers start to fall out. The old feathers still attached produce a persistent odor, which disappears as soon as the plumage is entirely replaced. Once the molt is over, the normal identity ring is put back on the flipper of each penguin. The Biodôme animal attendants keep an accurate record of the state of the molts, in which they enter the date of the start of each penguin’s molt, when the identity ring was removed and then put back, and the date the molt ends. The penguins then have their brilliant plumage again and can once more frolic in the water – until next year!