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Monthly Archives: August 2014 − News & Stories


Fea­ther-loss dis­or­der obser­ved in ant­arc­tic pen­gu­ins

The fea­ther-loss dis­or­der is an avi­an dise­a­se that leads to the loss of part of the plu­mage. It has been obser­ved on a num­ber of occa­si­ons in pen­gu­in colo­nies in South Afri­ca and South Ame­ri­ca sin­ce 2006. Litt­le is known about the dise­a­se. It is not even unders­tood if it is cau­sed by bac­te­ria or viru­ses.

In Janu­a­ry 2014, the fea­ther-loss dis­or­der has, for the first time, been obser­ved in Ant­arc­ti­ca. The Ade­lie pen­gu­in colo­ny in Hope Bay, on the nor­the­as­tern Ant­arc­tic Pen­in­su­la, is one of the lar­gest of its kind in Ant­arc­ti­ca, with about 120,000 bree­ding pairs. It is rou­ti­nely cen­sus­ed every week by per­son­nel from the near­by Argen­ti­ne sta­ti­on Espe­r­an­za. In Janu­a­ry, one chick, about 15-20 days old, was found with part­ly mis­sing plu­mage, expo­sing parts of the skin. The remai­ning fea­thers were easi­ly blown away even by wind gusts. Lice or other influ­en­ces were not obser­ved. The chick died 2 days later.

Ano­t­her chick was sub­se­quent­ly found in ano­t­her part of the colo­ny, about 1 kilo­met­re away. This second affec­ted chick could, howe­ver, not be inves­ti­ga­ted in any detail, as it disap­peared and did not come back. Pres­um­a­b­ly, it died soon.

No other affec­ted pen­gu­ins were obser­ved. It seems accord­in­gly that the fea­ther-loss dise­a­se does not spread easi­ly; it is pos­si­ble that it affects only pen­gu­ins with a sup­pres­sed immu­ne sys­tem or a gene­ti­cal dis­po­si­ti­on.

It is unknown how the dise­a­se came from South Afri­ca or South Ame­ri­ca to Ant­arc­ti­ca. The risk of fur­ther sprea­ding is also com­ple­te­ly unknown. It seems, howe­ver, likely that staff from base Espe­r­an­za who had been in touch with pen­gu­in colo­nies in Argen­ti­na may unin­ten­tio­nal­ly have brought the dise­a­se with them. Tou­rism might be ano­t­her vec­tor, but it is com­pul­so­ry for tou­rists to dis­in­fect boots and to clean clot­hing and other equip­ment care­ful­ly befo­re arri­val in Ant­arc­ti­ca and any lan­ding the­re, to pre­vent sprea­ding dise­a­ses or ali­en plant spe­ci­es.

Ade­lie chick with fea­ther-loss dis­or­der. Hope Bay, Ant­arc­ti­ca, Janu­a­ry 2014. Pho­to: And­res Bar­bo­sa.

Adelie chick with feather-loss disorder, Hope Bay, Antarctica

Source: Ant­arc­tic Sci­ence

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