Penguins are aquatic birds that rely on the ocean for food and survival.
Unlike most birds we know these marine animals are unable to fly.
They can be found living in the southern hemisphere in polar climates such as Antarctica all year round.
These birds have become highly adapted to aquatic life and can spend as much as half of their lives swimming around in the ocean.
There are currently estimated to be as many as 20 species of penguin in existence today.
The wings of penguins have been transformed into flippers which allows them to swim through the water easily and effortlessly.
Unlike other species of bird penguins however are not capable of flying.
When traveling on land their tail and flippers help them maintain stability as they waddle across the surface.
All species have black backs and flippers and white fronts.
It is believed that this coloring allows them to blend in with their environment and avoid being attacked by predators when they are in the water.
The largest penguin “the emperor penguin” can grow to be over 3 1/2 feet tall and weigh about 75 lbs.
The smallest penguin “the little blue penguin” on the other hand only grows to about 1 1/2 feet and weighs around 3 lbs.
When frightened penguins may reach speeds of up to 17 mph for brief periods of time although they typically average 3 1/2 – 7 1/2 miles per hour.
In order to maintain body heat penguins have thick insulated feathers which help keep their body parts from freezing.
They are also able control their blood flow to their extremities in order to prevent them from freezing, especially when diving for food.
Another method that is often used to maintain body heat is huddling.
Huddling occurs when groups of penguins huddle together in order to maintain body heat and will take turns entering the center of the huddle where the most heat exists.
Penguins are known to use one of three strategies when traveling on land; waddling, hopping (basically jumping with both feet) and sliding on their bellies, which helps conserve energy while allowing for fast movement.
Depending on the species of penguin their food preference can vary which also helps reduce competition for food.
Large colonies are able to consume millions of pounds of food on a daily basis.
Penguins rely on their eyes to find food while underwater.
Most dives for food do not exceed 60 feet, although some species are capable of diving nearly 2,000 feet for when hunting for prey.
They capture their prey by grabbing it with their bill and swallow their food whole.
Penguins are known to fast (stop eating) annually during breeding periods when they must watch their eggs, keep them warm and prevent them from being attacked by predators.
Before fasting they stock up by consuming large quantities of food so that they can build up enough energy from fat to last them throughout their fasting period.
Habitat and Environment
Penguins can be found living throughout various parts the southern hemisphere.
In fact penguins have been found living in parts of the world such as Antarctica, Argentina, Australia, Parts of south Africa and Chile.
Due to the cool waters that flow through these countries penguins have been able to survive and prosper.
Since larger species of penguin are able to maintain more body heat they are typically found in colder regions of the world.
Breeding and Social Structure
Penguins generally prefer living in large pairs or colonies that can contain anywhere from 100 to several 100,000 penguins.
Penguins are not marine mammals therefore they are not able to carry their young in a womb.
Once a year they all meet on land to mate and produce offspring (lay eggs).
During these mating periods penguins often revisit their birth grounds where they were born to produce their own offspring even though it may be far away from their current home.
The process begins by digging holes under large rocks or bushes.
They then lay their eggs in these nests that they have created.
In area’s where it is too cold to burrow holes they create nests of made of pebbles.
They generally lay two eggs, but some species may only lay one.
Both the male and female penguin (with the exception of the emperor penguin) share incubation periods where they sit on their eggs.
This strategy allows one penguin to keep their eggs (containing their offspring) warm while the other penguin rests or gathers food.
Incubation periods can last anywhere from a few days to several weeks.
The thick shell of these eggs helps in minimizing the likelihood that the shell will break due to pressure from either parent sitting on it and the yolk encased in the egg is believed to help aid in keeping the offspring warm when the parents aren’t sitting on it.
Penguins also have an incubation pouch which allows them to sit on the egg without adding much pressure.
Most eggs are believed to take 33 – 36 days to hatch and in most cases where two eggs were produced the first egg usually takes a day longer to hatch than the first.
In some of the larger species it may take as many as 60 days for an egg to hatch.
After about 3 months of birth both parents may leave their young in order to search for food due to their need to feed additional mouths and replenish their own energy.
When the parents are away young penguins form groups with other penguins to aid in avoiding potential attacks from predators.
Size Does Matter
When it comes to the size of penguins several characteristics stand out
- The larger the penguin is the more likely it is to live in colder regions. Smaller penguins inhibit warmer climates and may even be found in or around tropical regions near the equator.
- Larger penguins have been seen diving nearly 2,00o ft. in search of food. Smaller penguins only make shallow dives and aren’t nearly as likely to swim to those depths to find prey.
- Small penguins typically dive for short periods of time 1 – 3 minutes. Larger penguins may dive for over 20 minutes.
Popular penguin movies and books
- March of the penguins
- Mr. poppers penguins
- Happy Feet
- The penguins of Madagascar
- Farce of the penguins
- The pebble and the penguins