10 Facts About Puffins

iStock/pulpitis
iStock/pulpitis

Puffins are widely regarded as the cutest birds on Earth. With their black and white plumage and large orange beaks, Atlantic puffins and their cousins may look like a clownish cross between a duck and penguin, but these birds are their own cool kind. Read on for more about the birds' diet, their chicks—called pufflings!—and habitat.

1. The name puffin refers to the young birds' roly-poly look.

Puffins are called several names based on their appearance. Puffin is thought to come from the word puff, meaning swollen, because the fluffy pufflings do appear rather round. Puffins have also been referred to as the clowns of the ocean or sea parrots thanks to their amusing expression and colorful beak. The Atlantic puffin’s Latin name, Fratercula arctica, translates to “little brother of the north,” which may allude to the Atlantic puffin’s plumage resembling a friar’s robe.

2. There's more than one kind of puffin.

There are four species of puffin: Atlantic puffin, horned puffin, tufted puffin, and rhinoceros auklet. The first three belong to the genus Fratercula and live in the northern Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The rhinoceros auklet, in the genus Cerorhinca, is somewhat different in its appearance but still qualifies as a puffin, anatomically speaking. The auklets live along the western coast of North America from Alaska to central California.

3. Puffins' beaks change color.

Puffins’ beaks are known for their technicolor orange hue, but just before winter the birds shed the outer layer of their bills, leaving them smaller and duller. When spring arrives, though, their beaks return to their bright form, just in time for mating season.

4. Unlike penguins, puffins can fly.

Puffins might resemble the black and white Antarctic birds, but they are definitely not flightless. Despite their stout bodies and short wings, puffins can fly as fast as 55 mph, but not without some serious effort: They have to flap their wings 300 to 400 times per minute to stay aloft.

5. Puffins lay one egg a year.

Atlantic puffin with silver fish in its beak
iStock/CreativeNature_nl

Puffins have just one puffling each year, and they usually have one partner for their lifetime. Puffins raise their single chick during the warmer months of spring and summer and generally return to their same burrows with the same mate the following spring.

6. Pufflings are kind of high-maintenance.

Being a parent to a puffling is very demanding job. Mother and father puffins have to fly long distances to hunt food in the open ocean and then return to their chick with mouthfuls of fish. Parents can supply their young with fish more than 100 times a day.

7. Special tongues help puffins catch and hold fish.

Puffins can grab around 10 small fish—like sand eels, one of their favorite foods—in their beaks per dive. That rare ability is thanks to their specialized tongues and upper palates. A puffin's tongue ends in a coarse section that can hold on to a fish and simultaneously push it against a spiky patch in the bird's mouth, where the prey stays put as the puffin continues hunting. One puffin in Britain set a record for carrying 62 fish in its beak at one time.

8. Puffins dig holes instead of building nests.

Atlantic puffin in its nest burrow
iStock/Peter Llewellyn

Puffins don’t construct the typical cup-shaped nest to raise their puffling. Instead, they burrow into the ground, digging to a depth of about 3 feet with their beaks and feet. They will also find protected spots between rocks on steep cliffs, which protect young birds from predators.

9. Puffins can live more than 20 years.

Puffins lead long lives for birds—often more than two decades. The oldest known puffin lived to be 36. The species’ maximum age is difficult to gauge because dated leg bands often corrode in the puffins’ salty habitat, or become illegible as the puffins nest in rocky environments. In fact, it’s hard to track which puffins were ever banded at all.

10. A puffin patrol helps rescue pufflings in Iceland’s largest puffin colony.

Iceland is home to more than half of the world’s puffin population, and its Vestmannaeyjar archipelago hosts the country’s largest puffin colony. Each April, thousands of birds return from the open ocean to breed. Residents of the main village on Heimaey island, the only inhabited island in the group, have formed a puffin patrol to help rescue pufflings who wander into town and to provide an estimate of the year’s new chicks. In 2016, the last year for which data are readily available, 2639 pufflings were brought into the Vestmannaeyjar Fish and Natural History Museum to be examined and then released.

100 Dachshunds Competed in Cincinnati’s Annual ‘Running of the Wieners’

NORRIE3699/iStock via Getty Images
NORRIE3699/iStock via Getty Images

Every year, to kick off Cincinnati’s Oktoberfest Zinzinnati, 100 dachshunds compete in heats to decide who the fastest dachshund in the Midwest is. This year marks the 43rd annual Oktoberfest—one of the biggest Oktoberfest celebrations outside of Germany (more than 500,000 people attend the three-day event).

On the afternoon of Thursday, September 19, 100 wiener dogs (and their owners and handlers) gathered in downtown Cincinnati for the 2019 "Running of the Wieners." The dogs, dressed in hot dog costumes, ran 10 heats, which lasted 75 feet or five seconds each. The winner of each heat advanced to the final round, where the top three finishers were decided.

Maple, a long-haired, one-year-old dachshund, ran his way into first place—and into our hearts.

Maple’s owner, Jake Sander, told WCPO that Maple is one of five dachshunds in the family, and that he learned to run fast by chasing his brother around. Leo and Bucky, two other doxies, placed second and third, respectively.

Besides the Running of the Wieners, Zinzinnati also hosts the World’s Largest Chicken Dance. However, the wiener dogs are more fun to watch.

Photographer Captures Polka-Dotted Zebra Foal in Kenya

Frank Liu
Frank Liu

Zebras are known for their eye-catching patterns, but this polka-dotted foal recently photographed in Kenya's Masai Mara National Reserve really stands out from the herd. As National Geographic reports, the zebra baby likely has pseudomelanism, a rare pigment condition that's been observed in the wild just a handful of times.

Nature photographer Frank Liu saw the zebra foal while looking for rhinos in the savannah wilderness preserve. After initially confusing the specimen for a different type of animal, he realized upon closer inspection that it was actually a plains zebra born with spots instead of stripes. The newborn foal was named Tira after the Maasai guide Antony Tira who first pointed him out.

Zebra foal with spots walking with mother.
Frank Liu

Zebra foal with spots.
Frank Liu

A typical zebra pattern is the result of pigment cells called melanocytes, which are responsible for the black base coat, and melanin, which gives the animal its white stripes. (So if you've ever wondered if zebras are white with black stripes or black with white stripes, the answer is the latter). In Tira and other zebras with pseudomelanism, the melanocytes are fully expressed, but a genetic mutation causes the melanin to appear as dots rather than unbroken stripes.


View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Frank Liu (@frankliuphotography) on

Though rare, this isn't the only time a zebra with pseudomelanism has been documented in nature. Pseudomelanistic zebras have also been spotted in Botswana’s Okavango Delta, but Liu believes this could be the first time one was found in the Masai Mara preserve.

Zebra stripes aren't just for decoration. The distinct pattern may act as camouflage, bug repellant, and a built-in temperature regulation system. Without these evolutionary benefits, Tira has a lower chance of making it to adulthood: Pseudomelanistic zebra adults are rarely observed for this reason. But as Liu's photographs show, the foal has the protection and acceptance of his herd on his side.

[h/t National Geographic]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER