Mysterious Feather-Loss Disease Discovered in Antarctic Penguins

A rare disorder that causes penguins to lose their feathers has turned up in Antarctica for the first time. The so-called feather-loss disorder had previously been detected in penguin chicks in the South Atlantic and at a rehabilitation center in Cape Town, South Africa. In a report published recently in the journal Antarctic Science, scientists said that earlier this year they found two chicks with feather loss in the Hope Bay Adélie penguin colony. “This is the first time that the feather-loss disorder has been recorded in Antarctica birds,” they reported.

Both chicks apparently died a few days later. No other penguins in a rockery of more than 100,000 breeding pairs seemed to be affected, so the disease doesn’t appear to be easily spread, lead author Andres Barbosa of the Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales (National Museum of Natural Sciences) in Madrid told NBC News via email. It’s not known what causes the disorder, which was first detected in 2006 in African penguin chicks. One of the prevailing theories is that it’s caused by a viral infection, “but this has not been demonstrated yet,” Barbosa said. At the moment, the disorder does not seem to be a serious threat to penguin populations, he added.

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