National Geographic : 2015 Jan
Wild Things EXPLORE PHOTOS: EMILY BERL (TOP); ALEXANDER SEMENOV These captive Magellanic penguin chicks are pioneers: Theirs is the first penguin species to produce young via artificial insemination. Success took more than a decade, as researchers acquired detailed knowledge of Magellanics’ reproductive biology. The near-threatened species was an ideal candidate for artificial insemi- nation trials, says Justine O’Brien, scientific director of SeaWorld’s reproductive programs. That’s because the birds are easy to work with, and they’re closely related to endangered species such as Galápagos and African penguins. Now that the method has worked with Magellanics, researchers hope it can one day be employed with endangered penguin species. The ultimate goal, says O’Brien, is to use it to maintain genetically diverse captive penguin populations and perhaps even replenish depleted populations in the wild. — Jane J. Lee Hatching a First for Penguins WHO SPLIT FIRST? The announcement jolted the gelatinous world: The comb jelly lineage was likely the first to split from the common ancestor of all animals. Scientists long believed that sponges broke off first, some 600 million years ago. Resolving the question could help explain how nervous sys- tems evolved, says the University of Florida’s Leonid L. Moroz. Comb jellies (right) have nerve cells; sponges don’t. If comb jellies split first, they may have the oldest neurons of any extant species, says Heather Marlow of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory. — JJL Magellanic chicks conceived by artificial insemination thrive 13 weeks after hatching.