The eyebrows have it for new penguin species

  • @indyvoices

In a world full of disappearing or threatened species, here is some good news at last. The planet is about to welcome a new species of penguin.

The birds - a few thousand small penguins on the French islands of Amsterdam and St Paul in the southern Indian Ocean - resemble millions of rockhopper penguins found all around the northern fringe of the Antarctic.

And thanks to the stubborn research of a French ornithologist, they have been declared a species in their own right.

Pierre Jouventin, scientist and film-maker and one of the world's foremost experts on penguins, first claimed that the Amsterdam and St Paul rockhoppers were a separate species 25 years ago.

He pointed out that they had a mating song with deeper notes than their cousins elsewhere and that their beautiful, feathered eyebrows - one of the characteristics of all rockhoppers - were longer and bushier.

His claims were dismissed by other ornithologists. Now, two years before his retirement, Mr Jouventin, 63, has been vindicated. In a forthcoming article in the magazine Molecular Ecology he will reveal DNA tests which show that the Amsterdam and St Paul rockhoppers are a distinct species.

M. Jouventin said: "It is an interesting discovery because it is not every day that you find a new species of bird this large."

All rockhoppers are about 18 to 24in high. They take their name from the fact that they hop over crevices on the rocky shores and islands where they live.

M. Jouventin said that his discovery might also help the birds to survive. Because they were now a separate type of penguin, with only a few thousand examples, they will instantly become a protected species. Collection and sale of their eggs will become illegal.

The latin name of the new species is Eudyptes moseleyi. Previously they were a sub-species of rockhopper (E. chrysocome) and therefore E. chrysocome moseleyi.