Locals in South Africa were surprised to see scores of endangered African penguins laying dead on a beach, surrounded by a sprinkling of dead bees, on Friday morning. Post-mortem examinations of the seabirds revealed the presence of stings, indicating that the colony had been assaulted by a swarm of angry bees.
The carcasses of 63 penguins were discovered on a beach in Simon’s Town, near Cape Town, on September 17, according to South African National Parks (SANParks). Penguin Town, a Netflix documentary series on the super-cute species’ battle against extinction, featured the penguins from the Boulders African penguin colony.
“Preliminary examinations suggest that the penguins died as a result of being stung by a swarm of Cape honey bees,” according to a statement from SANParks – Table Mountain National Park. A single dead penguin was also discovered on a beach in Fish Hoek Beach, less than 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) away, with many stings.
The last thing this species needs is a catastrophic blow to its numbers. The African Penguin (Spheniscus demersus) is classified as endangered by the IUCN Red List, and its population has been rapidly declining in recent decades, owing to food shortages caused by overfishing and climate change.
The penguins’ remains were brought to the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB), which performed a post-mortem and collected biological samples for testing. While there were no evident injuries, post-mortem examinations revealed that all of the penguins had several bee stings. To rule out any other possibilities, biological samples were sent for disease and toxicological testing. The coasts of South Africa, Namibia, Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, and Mozambique are home to African penguins.
Despite their diminutive size, the species is commonly referred to as jackass penguins because of their loud, donkey-like bray. Even stranger, they communicate using similar “speech” patterns to humans.
Scientists studied the display songs of African penguins in captivity in 2020 and discovered that they communicate using shorter vocalizations for the sounds they use most often and longer vocalizations with more syllables for more complex messages – linguistic principles that are found in human speech all over the world.
Due to their diminutive stature, standing at just 60 centimeters (24 inches) tall and weighing an average of 2.2 to 3.5 kilograms, African penguins are known to be particularly sensitive to multiple stings from Cape honey bees (4.9 to 7.7 pounds). Nonetheless, mass-sting occurrences wiping out a major section of a wild animal population are relatively rare.
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