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Philly.com Reports: Aquarium news: It's a girl . . . penguin

POSTED: July 18, 2013

Her name may be Casanova, but the chick is very much a lady.

"Pretty baby pink!" exclaimed biologist Kate Budion as the Adventure Aquarium made the gender of its youngest penguin public with a splash Wednesday.

Only the 15th chick the aquarium's penguin colony has produced since it was established in 1998, Casanova was born Jan. 11, 2013.

"She was named 'Casanova' because we introduced her to the public on Valentine's Day, and we were looking for a name that could be abbreviated in either a male or a female way," said Sara Honovich, the aquarium's director of marketing and sales.

The hand-raised and, as a result, personable little bird has quickly become a starlet at the Aquarium on the Camden waterfront as well as on social media.

More than 500 friends of the aquarium's Facebook page clicked "like" for the freshly nicknamed Cassie within three hours of the announcement Wednesday.

And outside the habitat where Cassie lives with 17 fellow African black-footed penguins, about 100 people waited expectantly despite the searing heat. (Had the suspense continued much longer, I might have jumped into the habitat's beckoning waters myself.)

Several people wore pink or blue, as per the aquarium's suggestion they "dress their guess" of Casanova's gender.

"I have two girls, so I picked pink," said Brian Miller, 50, an art educator from Dover, Del., whose wife, Julie, a judicial secretary, sported blue.

Their daughter Sarah, who turned 19 Wednesday, went for pink. African black-footed penguins of either sex "are cute," she noted, accurately.

Petite, warmer-weather cousins of those tuxedo-clad stars of March of the Penguins and Happy Feet, African penguins have identical external genitalia. It seems that even experts can't distinguish between the sexes.

The birds seem to figure things out eventually, although males and females do not mature sexually, much less mate, until about two to three years of age. Their human caregivers take note of "who's laying eggs," Budion said.

Nevertheless, the pretty little birds have become an endangered species.

Since 2000, the wild population of African black-footed penguins has dropped from 200,000 to about 55,000.

Thus, Wednesday's party had a serious side: The more information biologists have as they care for and observe the birds, the better.

The aquarium generally draws blood for DNA testing by an outside laboratory when chicks are about five or six months old. Casanova's results were known only by a select group of aquarium employees until Wednesday.

"I didn't want to know!" Honovich said, laughing.

Casanova is slightly smaller than the typical six-month-old, standing about a foot tall and weighing less than six pounds.

"At first, we fed her a little bit of everything - capelin, herring, and squid," Budion said. "But she's started to develop her own personality, and she really likes her herring."

Although the frozen pink "fishicles" the colony received as treats for announcement day were made of capelin, Casanova and friends lapped them up.

"I think everyone had a good time," Budion said. "We're always excited to present penguins to the public."

And Casanova, she added, "is used to being on the stage."


Contact Kevin Riordan at 856-779-3845 or kriordan@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @inqkriordan. Read the Metro columnists' blog, "Blinq," at www.philly.com/blinq.

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