Why the death of 60 penguins by a swarm of bees is a serious concern for the species.
Conservationists in South Africa came across a gruesome scene Monday when they discovered 63 dead African Penguins in a wildlife colony south of Cape Town, Simonstown.
What was the cause of death? Stings from bees.
The penguins’ bodies were covered in bee stings, which were concentrated around their eyes and flippers, according to conservationists who conducted a postmortem. These are the most vulnerable portions of the bird, and one individual was found to have been stung 27 times.
The penguins and bees “co-exist” in their common habitat, according to Dr. Alison Kock of South Africa’s national parks agency. However, she suspected that something may have disturbed the bees in their nest, with the flock of penguins bearing the brunt of the damage.
“The bees don’t sting unless provoked,” Kock told BBC News. “We believe a nest or hive in the region was disturbed, causing a mass of bees to exit the nest, swarm, and become aggressive.”
The sting of honey bees can be fatal, especially when they strike in swarms.
The amount of stings sustained by the penguins would have been “definitely fatal for any animal of that size,” according to Dr. Katta Ludynia of the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds.
The African Wild Bee Institute’s Jenny Cullinan said that the bees leave behind a pheromone that allows other members of the swarm guarding a nest to track a target they stung.
Because of overfishing in their natural habitats, African Penguins are considered endangered. The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species estimates that the birds number around 41,700 individuals as of 2019, although their numbers are falling.
Other conservationists believe that the loss of so many penguins in such a short period of time is a dangerous blow to the Boulders Beach resident colony.
According to the South African National Parks, the colony has a total population of 2,200 penguins. The foundation’s clinical veterinarian, David Roberts, told Agence France-Presse that the penguin population couldn’t handle so many losses all at once.
“The penguins… must not perish in this manner, as they are already endangered. They’re a protected species, according to Roberts.
They live along the country’s coasts on both the Atlantic and Indian Ocean sides of the country. There are other populations in Mozambique. Brief News from Washington Newsday.