Written by Amos Nachoum
Even after twelve years of traveling to Antarctica to see Leopard seals, Antarctic icefish, crabeater seals and penguins, I am still discovering things about the region. Scientists are now saying that penguins, who live on Earth’s coldest continent, may have once lived where it was a lot warmer.
Penguins have lived in the Southern Hemisphere for 40 million years because they can tolerate cold water. Really cold. But it turns out that penguins lived in a warmer climate at first, and while they were there they developed a life-saving network of blood vessels that moved heat from the body to the wings. That network of blood vessels, called the plexus, was a part of penguin anatomy at least 49 million years ago when Earth was a very warm place – and nothing like Antarctica existed. Back then, the planet was in a phase of global warming, probably because of volcanic activity.
So it looks like penguins learned how to retain heat back when the much of the Earth was warm, not while they were living in the frozen landscape of Antarctica as we think of it today. Amazing.
The earliest-known penguins to feature the plexus lived on the lost continent of Gondwana, on what is now Seymour Island in Antarctica. Back then, the waters there were 59 degrees, compared with the water’s current average temperature today of 34 degrees.
I’m looking forward to my next Antarctic trip and have some great adventures for you in the pipeline now. I’m planning one to Norway to bring some adventurers an unforgettable experience with Orcas, followed by a trip to experience polar bears in the Canadian High Arctic. That’s where you find ice trekking and wildlife photography unlike anything you’ve ever experienced before. Will you join me? It will be a pleasure to have you along.
Have a happy, healthy and safe holiday and best wishes for 2011.