CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (WKRN) — You might not be able to go to the Tennessee Aquarium right now due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so News 2 is bringing the aquarium to you!
News 2 spoke to Loribeth Lee, the Senior Aviculturist, earlier this month. She’s in charge of the penguin habitat at the aquarium. She gave us some basic penguin fun facts, like how long a penguin can live. The answer might surprise you!
“So they normally live around 15-20 years out in their natural habitat,” Lee told News 2. “Of course, they have predators to worry about, and they’re not guaranteed to find food every single day. Of course, our birds get quality fish every single day. They have no predators, and they even have a vet to take care of them! So a lot of penguins in zoos and aquariums live into their 30s!”
Six of the penguins at the Tennessee Aquarium are in their 20s and the oldest one is 29!
The Aquarium is home to two species of penguins: Gentoo and macaroni penguins! We’re going to focus on the macaroni penguins first because, why on earth is a bird named after our favorite carb? As it turns out, the answer lies in a piece of European history!
“They actually get their name from the funny little feathers on their head!” Lee explained. “That goes back to Europe, when men would wear feathers in their cap, and they would call them macaroni dandies!”
While the macaroni penguins have the looks, gentoo penguins have the speed! Gentoos are the fastest species of penguin, and their top speed is pretty impressive! They’ve clocked going as fast as 22 mph! To put that in perspective– record-setting Olympian, Michael Phelps’s top speed is 6 mph.
Both species of penguins at the aquarium are getting a little louder this time of year! It’s nesting season right now, so the penguins are communicating more as they try to find a mate.
“The communication that you hear is usually males talking to one another, or females talking to one another saying that they’ve got their man, and to back off– to stay away!” Lee says, “Every year when breeding season starts, it’s like a soap opera. We don’t know which birds are going to pair together, or where they’re gonna be. So it’s really fun to watch.”
When it comes to pairing up, a penguin proposal isn’t too dissimilar from a human proposal– it even involves a rock! Rather, it involves many rocks, as the male penguin uses them to build a nest. However, quality matters, even in the penguin world!
“The males do most of the building, so they will go and find the perfect rock, and they’ll bring it to their mate, and they’ll constantly work on their nest,” Lee explained. “They’ll actually go steal rocks from their neighbors!”
If you want to keep an eye on our feathered friends, the Tennessee Aquarium has a live-stream of their penguin habitat on their website. We’ll also be broadcasting more penguin fun-facts from our interview with Loribeth every day this week on Good Morning Nashville.