14 wonderful facts about penguins that will amaze you
Spot them waddling on the ice, and you may judge the penguin as a somewhat awkward creature. But in fact, these mighty birds have a myriad of extraordinary adaptations to the harsh Antarctic winters in which they thrive. They also play an integral part in the Antarctic ecosystem, and changes to penguin populations can have dire consequences for other sections of the food chain.
Penguins spend 75% of their lives at sea, and to ensure their survival, we must protect the oceans surrounding Antarctica. So to celebrate today - World Penguin Day - we've collected 14 astounding facts about this tux-wearing superbird.
And then do your bit for their survival by signing our petition to protect Antarctica's oceans.
- Most penguins swim underwater at around four to seven miles per hour, but the fastest penguin — the gentoo — can reach top speeds of 22 miles per hour (or 35 km/h)! (Source: Smithsonian Magazine)
- All but two penguin species breed in large colonies for protection, ranging from 200 to hundreds of thousands of birds. (There’s safety in numbers!) But living in such tight living quarters leads to an abundance of penguin poop—so much that it stains the ice! The upside is that scientists can locate colonies from space just by looking for dark ice patches. (Source: Smithsonian Magazine)
- Emperors are the largest of all penguins — an average bird stands some 45 inches (115 centimetres) tall. That's the same height as an average six year old child. (Source: National Geographic)
- Emperor penguins are exquisite divers! While they mostly forage at depths from 150 to 250 metres, the deepest dive recorded was to 565 metres. On average dives last 3–6 minutes but the longest dive on record was 22 minutes. (Source: Antarctica.gov.au)
- Emperor penguins are very social creatures, and one of their survival mechanisms is an urge to huddle together to keep warm. Emperor colonies face blizzards of up to 200 km/h but the temperature inside a huddle can be as high as +24°C. In the huddle, individuals seem to temporarily lose their identity, and the mass of emperors takes on the appearance and behaviour of a single living entity. The emperor penguin is also the only species of penguin that is not territorial. (Source: Antarctica.gov.au)
- Nature has provided the emperor with excellent insulation in the form of several layers of scale-like feathers and it takes very strong winds (over 60 knots) to get them ruffled. (Source: Antarctica.gov.au)
- Emperor penguins also have the highest feather density of any bird, at 100 feathers per square inch (6 square cm). (Source: Smithsonian Magazine)
- Female Emperor penguins lay a single egg and then promptly leave it behind. Male emperors keep the newly laid eggs warm, but they do not sit on them, as many other birds do. Males stand and protect their eggs from the elements by balancing them on their feet and covering them with feathered skin known as a brood pouch. During this two-month bout of babysitting the males eat nothing and are at the mercy of the Antarctic elements. (Source: National Geographic)
- Adélies build nests and line them with small stones. Adult Adélie penguins have been observed stealing rocks from their neighbors’ nests! (Source: National Geographic)
- Royal and macaroni penguins lay two eggs. The first is small and is discarded. No one knows the reason for this yet! (Source: Antarctica.gov.au)
- Royal penguins are migratory, leaving Macquarie Island after the breeding season. It is unknown where they go during this time, although there have been sightings from Tasmania to the Antarctic sector of the Southern Ocean. (Source: Antarctica.gov.au)
- While they can’t fly through the air with their flippers, many penguin species take to the air when they leap from the water onto the ice. Just before taking flight, they release air bubbles from their feathers. This cuts the drag on their bodies, allowing them to double or triple their swimming speed quickly and launch into the air. (Source: Smithsonian Magazine)
- Eating so much seafood means drinking a lot of saltwater, but penguins have a way to remove it. The supraorbital gland, located just above their eye, filters salt from their bloodstream, which is then excreted through the bill—or by sneezing! (Source: Smithsonian Magazine)
- Penguins don’t wear tuxedos to make a fashion statement: it helps them be camouflaged while swimming. From above, their black backs blend into the dark ocean water and, from below, their white bellies match the bright surface lit by sunlight. This helps them avoid predators, such as leopard seals, and hunt for fish unseen. (Source: Smithsonian Magazine)
Now continue the World Penguin Day celebrations and encourage your friends to sign our petition.