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Keywords:

  • Eudyptes sclateri;
  • Megadyptes antipodes;
  • heat retention;
  • penguin;
  • vascular system

Abstract

Insulation and vascular heat-retention mechanisms allow penguins to forage for a prolonged time in water that is much cooler than core body temperature. Wing-based heat retention involves a plexus of humeral arteries and veins, which redirect heat to the body core rather than to the wing periphery. The humeral arterial plexus is described here for Eudyptes and Megadyptes, the only extant penguin genera for which wing vascular anatomy had not previously been reported. The erect-crested (Eudyptes sclateri) and yellow-eyed (Megadyptes antipodes) penguins both have a plexus of three humeral arteries on the ventral surface of the humerus. The wing vascular system shows little variation between erect-crested and yellow-eyed penguins, and is generally conserved across the six extant genera of penguins, with the exception of the humeral arterial plexus. The number of humeral arteries within the plexus demonstrates substantial variation and correlates well with wing surface area. Little penguins (Eudyptula minor) have two humeral arteries and a wing surface area of ∼ 75 cm2, whereas emperor penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri) have up to 15 humeral arteries and a wing surface area of ∼ 203 cm2. Further, the number of humeral arteries has a stronger correlation with wing surface area than with sea water temperature. We propose that thermoregulation has placed the humeral arterial plexus under a strong selection pressure, driving penguins with larger wing surface areas to compensate for heat loss by developing additional humeral arteries. Anat Rec, 2012. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.