101 Facts… PENGUINS! by IP Factly
Over 101 cool facts about the cutest birds in the world.
It contains facts, photos and awesome videos that show us more about these well-loved creatures.
The YouTube video playlist below contains videos about Penguins. Details of the videos featured are underneath.
- Emperor penguins – The Greatest Wildlife Show on Earth – BBC
- Rockhopper Penguins Hop to the Top – Penguins: Spy in the Huddle – Episode 1 Preview – BBC One
- Emperor chicks standing tall – Penguins: Spy in the Huddle – Episode 2 Preview – BBC One
- Emperor Penguins first encounter with PenguinCam – Penguins: Spy in the Huddle – BBC One
- King penguins and their young – David Attenborough – BBC wildlife
- Macaroni Penguins – Attenborough: [easyazon-link asin=”B000BJS4FS” locale=”us”]Life in the Freezer[/easyazon-link] – BBC
- Penguins Do the Wave to Keep Warm by NationalGeographic
- Emperor Penguins Speed Launch Out of the Water by NationalGeographic
- Penguins Dressed for Success by NationalGeographic
- King Penguins and Fur Seals – BBC Planet Earth
- Emperor Penguins v Leopard Seal – [easyazon-link asin=”B001957A4E” locale=”us”]Blue Planet[/easyazon-link] – BBC Earth
- National Geographic Live! : Paul Nicklen: Emperors of the Ice
General Penguin Facts
Adaptations for Aquatic Life
Lesser Known Penguin Species
Penguins are just one of the forty flightless birds that exist in the world today. Like other flightless birds, they cannot fly because they have small wing bones.
There are about 20 penguin species, all of which live in the southern half of the globe.
Not all penguins live in the Antarctic. They are also found in Argentina, Australia, Chile, Ecuador, New Zealand and South Africa.
Emperor Penguin, Atka Bay, Weddell Sea, Antarctica.
Penguins range in size between one and four feet tall. The largest species can be found in the Antarctic, while the smaller ones are scattered in more temperate regions.
A penguin’s lifespan ranges from six years to over twenty years in the wild, with larger penguin species usually living longer. Penguins in captivity can live up to 30 or 40 years old.
There are no particular names for male and female penguins – they are simply categorized as either male or female.
It is nearly impossible to tell a male penguin apart from a female penguin just by looking – a very close examination is necessary.
Most penguins live in groups of more than one hundred pairs. A group of penguins is called a rockery while a group of young penguins is called a creche. Sometimes, a group of penguins on land or ice is also called a waddle while a group of penguins in the water is called a raft.
Great colony of about 60,000 pairs of hatching King Penguins in Salisbury plain on South Georgia.
Most penguins are black and white. However, one in 50,000 has grayish-brown feathers. These penguins are called isabelline penguins and tend to live shorter lives than normal penguins, mainly because they lack camouflage and are shunned by the other penguins.
The name ‘penguin’ actually means ‘great auk’. However, while the great auk, which became extinct in the mid-18th century, indeed looked like a penguin and was also flightless, it belongs to a different group of birds and is only distantly related to penguins.
All penguins migrate from their feeding grounds to their breeding grounds. They do not travel long distances, usually traveling for less than one hundred miles.
Lifecycle of the Emperor Penguin
Penguins are believed to have evolved from flying birds roughly 65 million years ago. Why they lost their ability to fly remains a mystery, although some scientists believe that they gave up on flying because swimming was more energy efficient.
The oldest known penguin, the Waimanu manneringi, lived 62 million years ago. They looked more like loons and swam like them, with only their feet below water.
About 45 million years ago, giant penguins appeared. The tallest known penguin is the Anthropornis nordenskjoldi, or the Nordenskjoeld’s Giant Penguin, which could reach a height of five feet seven inches and a weight of 90 kg (200 pounds) which is similar in size to a female human.
Anthropornis nordenskjoeldi, a giant penguin from the early Oligocene.
The Icadyptes salasi was also a giant penguin which lived about 36 million years ago. It was five-feet tall and had a long, thin beak like a heron. Its fossils were found in the tropics of Peru, suggesting that it was one of the few penguin species to thrive in a warmer climate.
Giant penguins disappeared about 25 million years ago. According to scientists, this may have been because toothed whales became widespread and out-competed the penguins for fish.
Paratepnodytes and Paleosphenicus took the place of the giant penguins. They were smaller, less than two feet tall. Paratepnodytes were stouter and had big feet while Paleosphenicus were more slender.
Between 20 and 12 million years ago, the six genera of modern penguins appeared. These are the Sphenicus (banded penguins), the Aptenodytes (the great penguins), the Eudyptes (crested penguins), the Pygoscelis (the brush-tailed penguins), the Eudyptula and the Megadyptes.
Rock hopper penguin at Edinburgh Zoo.
Penguins may not have any visible ears but they can hear just as well as other birds with a range of 0.1 to 8 kiloHertz. They are able to hear calls from other members of their colony over long distances, especially calls from their own chicks or mates, which they can pick out from the crowd.
Penguins have special flattened eyes which allow them to see both above and below water, although they can see better from underwater. Their eyes have many blood vessels, which keep the eyes warm and prevent them from freezing.
Penguins also have a special membrane over their eyes called the nictating membrane. This transparent membrane acts as an extra eyelid that helps keep the eyes warm, especially when swimming.
Gentoo Penguin swimming underwater at Nagasaki Penguin Aquarium, Nagasaki, Japan.
Penguins have more feathers than any other bird – 80 feathers per square inch. This keeps the water out and maintains their body heat.
Penguins have a special gland near their tails called the preen gland. This produces oil that the penguins spread across all their feathers as an extra layer of protection against the cold. It also prevents bacteria and algae from sticking to the feathers.
Gentoo Penguin Swimming.
Penguins lose all of their feathers once a year in a process called moulting. During this time, they cannot swim to find food, so they fatten up beforehand.
The black and white pattern of a penguin’s coat is called countershading. Their black backs camouflage them from above when they are in the water, while their white bellies camouflage them from below, preventing seals and killer whales from seeing them as they swim.
King penguin underwater.
Like other animals that live in cold environments, penguins have a layer of fat beneath their skin called blubber which helps keep them warm.
Penguins have salt glands above their eyes which filter the salt from their bloodstream. This allows them to drink saltwater safely, although they do not do so on purpose.
When penguins sneeze, it is not because they are allergic or have a cold. Rather, they sneeze to expel the extra salt from their bodies.
Penguins do not urinate or defecate (they do not pee or poop). Their only waste product is a white paste of uric acid.
The shape of a penguin’s beak varies per species, depending on the diet. Penguins that eat mostly krill (little shrimp-like crustaceans) have short, wide beaks and penguins that eat mostly fish have long, narrow beaks.
King penguin showing off its beak at Edinburgh Zoo.
While penguins cannot use their wings for flying, they can definitely use them for swimming. In fact, penguins are the best swimmers among birds, able to swim at over 32 km (20 miles) per hour!
The body of a penguin is built especially for swimming. It is shaped like a spindle, stout in the middle but thin on both ends, which allows it to glide through the water.
Penguin at the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga.
Sometimes, while swimming, penguins leap out of the water and can go as high as seven feet in the air. They could leap over most basketball players! This is called porpoising and allows penguins to swim faster, especially in order to escape predators. Some scientists, however, say penguins simply do this for fun.
Unlike other bids, penguins have compact, heavy bones. These bones allow them to dive deep underwater.
As well as being the best swimmers, penguins are also the best divers among birds. They can dive for over 100 meters at speeds of 27 km (17 miles) per hour and hold their breath for over fifteen minutes.
Penguins have webbed feet just like ducks. They are located at the far back of their bodies so as to serve as rudders in the water and allow them to stand up straight on land.
Most penguins have wedge-shaped tails that help them swim. On land, they use these tails for balance.
African penguins. Photograph taken on Boulders Beach in South Africa.
Because of these abilities, it comes as no surprise that penguins are the most aquatic of all birds. In fact, penguins spend roughly 75% of their life in the water.
Penguins are carnivores – pescivores in particular because they eat mostly fish. Larger penguin species eat different kinds of fish, large squid and crustaceans while smaller penguin species eat small squid and krill.
In order to hunt fish, penguins first look for them during their dives and then chase after them. Sometimes, they happen upon a whole school of fish, where they pick off one fish and then another like a chicken pecking grain.
Penguins can only eat small fish underwater, though. If the fish is large, they have to bring it up to the surface and position it properly in their mouths, swallowing it head first.
Penguins do not have any teeth. Rather, they have strong beaks, short tongues and spines inside their mouth that go all the way down to their throat, which aid in grabbing and swallowing.
Penguins can digest their food very quickly – in as little as six hours. They can also delay this digestion for a few days, though, which is what mother penguins do in order to feed their young with relatively fresh fish.
Antarctic adelie penguin feeding chick.
Some penguins have been observed to deliberately swallow stones as large as 30 mm in diameter. According to scientists, this may aid the penguins achieve deeper dives and help with digestion.
Penguins are very vocal. They have basically three types of calls – the contact call, which they use to identify each other, the display call between partners and the distress call.
Penguins also make a growling sound to threaten others. Growls are usually accompanied by stares and gapes. If these are unheeded, an attack will likely follow.
Emperor Penguin Calling, Atka Bay, Weddell Sea, Antarctica.
Penguins attack each other using their beaks. They use their beaks to try and hit each other, much like using swords, until someone backs off. Sometimes, these attacks are accompanied by loud squawks.
Penguins can also communicate using various gestures such as flapping their wings and bobbing their heads. Sometimes, they bow their heads or hunch over when passing through the colony as a sign that they want to be left alone.
The age at which penguins begin to reproduce varies between species, usually depending on the size of the species. Smaller penguins can begin mating at three years of age while larger ones only begin mating between six and eight years of age.
Penguins are monogamous, which means they have only one mate each breeding season. Some penguins mate for life while others stick to one mate for a few seasons and then choose another.
Courtship rituals vary depending on the species, but often involve some sort of bowing or dancing by the male. Once the female accepts the male, the two spend plenty of time together strengthening their bond, preening each other, calling to each other, rubbing their bills together and sometimes even dancing together.
Courtship rituals between magellanic penguins on Península Valdés.
For most penguin species, nest building begins immediately after the female accepts the male. Nests can be made of twigs, leaves and other soft materials while other nests are made of stone. Some nests are made in the ground and others on rocks. Depending on the species, the nests in a colony can also be built close to each other or far apart.
Most penguins lay only one brood or clutch of eggs per season. However, the little blue penguin can have as many as three.
Penguins can have a brood of one to three eggs depending on the species. The size of the eggs depends on the size of the species. The emperor penguin, for example, lays eggs that are about 13 cm (five inches) long, while the eggs of the little blue penguin are only 3 cm (just over an inch) long.
Overall, penguin eggs are the smallest eggs in relation to the size of the parents. The eggs are only about 2% to 5% of the adult’s weight.
Egg of Adélie Penguin. Collection of Jacques Perrin de Brichambaut.
In most penguin species, both the male and female take turns incubating the egg – keeping the egg warm. The incubation time ranges from 32 to 68 days. The larger the egg, the longer it takes to hatch.
Once the chick – the baby penguin – is ready to come out, it can take about up to three days to break through the thick eggshell. Like other baby birds, penguin chicks have an egg tooth that they use to break out of their eggs.
Some of the yolk remains in the egg after the penguin chick hatches. This can serve as the chick’s first food as it waits to be fed by its parents.
Penguin chicks are born helpless. They are blind and covered with just thin feathers, so their mother or father has to keep them warm. After a few days, the chicks open their eyes and over the weeks, their feathers gradually thicken until they can keep themselves warm.
In some species, penguin chicks form a group as soon as they can walk. They gather together waiting to be fed, which usually happens one to three times a day.
King Penguin chicks, Gold Harbour, South Georgia.
When they are a little older, penguin chicks can chase after their parents and hit them with their bills to beg for food. When this happens, the parent waddles away and often takes to the water to escape or look for more food.
Penguin chicks first go into the water when they are about six months old. During this time, they still have their baby feathers which trap the air, making them float. This means they cannot drown but it also means they cannot go underwater. Once they can get under the water, they learn to swim on their own by practicing for hours at a time.
Unfortunately, only about 10% to 20% of penguin chicks make it past their first year. Many starve or freeze to death while others are preyed on by large birds or seals.
King Penguin Chick at Salisbury Plain.
In some cases, when a mother penguin loses her chick, she is so devastated that she tries to steal the chick from another pair. This, however, is rarely successful since mother penguins fiercely defend their chicks and because other adult penguins help defend the mother being attacked.
If an Antarctic penguin survives its first year, it can live through to old age. Penguins in Antarctica have no real land predators, but they do have predators in the water such as leopard seals and killer whales.
Penguins can grow very fast. Some take only fifty days to go from a chick to a fully grown adult, while others take little more than a year.
Emperor Penguins with Chicks.
The Adelie penguins are medium-sized penguins in the Antarctic known for looking like they’re wearing tuxedos. They also have white rings around their eyes, without which their eyes would be difficult to spot, and feathers covering most of their red bills.
Adelie penguins have an interesting way of behaving at the edge of the ice. They form a line, moving closer and closer to the edge until someone falls in. The rest of the penguins then crane their necks to see if the penguin that fell in is unharmed. If all is well, they then jump into the water one after another.
Scientific research shows that Adelie penguins once fed mostly on fish but changed their diet to mostly krill around the 18th century when the krill-feeding Antarctic fur seal and baleen whales began to decline. Adelie penguins likely took advantage of the krill surplus and helped them avoid competing with other Antarctic penguin species for food.
The African penguin, which can be found in South Africa, has a pink gland above its eyes. This pink gland helps the penguin cope with changing climates. It turns red when blood is sent to the gland to be cooled down by the surrounding air.
African Penguin, Boulders Beach, South Africa.
African penguins are also called black-footed penguins because of their black feet. They also have black markings on their chest which are unique to each individual, just like human fingerprints.
African penguins can make very loud sounds that are similar to the brays of a donkey. For this reason, they are also known as jackass penguins.
Jackass penguins (African penguins) at Boulders Beach, Simonstown, South Africa.
The emperor penguin is the largest of the penguins. It can reach a height of four feet (which is the average height of a seven year old human child). With a weight of up to 45 kg (99 pounds), it is the fifth heaviest bird in the world.
Emperor Penguin, Atka Bay, Weddell Sea, Antarctica.
Emperor penguins can dive to depths of more than 500 meters – deeper than any other bird. They can also hold their breath for more than twenty minutes, a result of their ability to regulate their blood circulation and oxygen intake.
Male emperor penguins give off loud courtship or display calls as they move around the colony. If the female accepts this call, she will stand in front of the male and mirror his movements, after which the pair will walk around together. Before the actual mating process, males and females bow before each other deeply, their bills nearly reaching the ground.
Emperor penguins are the only penguins who breed during the Antarctic winter and who do not make nests. Rather, the male keeps the lone egg warm in the brood pouch above his feet.
Emperor penguins are the only species in which the male incubates the eggs alone while the female goes to the sea for two months to feed.
Emperor penguin feeding a chick.
Transferring the egg from the female to the male can be a tricky process. In some cases, the egg falls and the chick inside dies because the eggshell is not thick enough to protect it from the freezing temperatures.
Emperor penguins are known to huddle in order to keep themselves warm. When they do, the chicks and juveniles are usually kept in the middle, where it is warmest.
The Galapagos penguin is the most northern of all penguins. It lives in the Galapagos Islands, a group of islands straddling the equator in the Pacific Ocean.
Galapagos penguin by putneymark.
While some penguins need to keep warm, the Galapagos penguins need to keep themselves cool since the temperature on the islands can reach up to 28 degrees Celsius. They take to the water or stretch their flippers and hunch forward when on land. They also pant to cool their throats.
Galapagos penguins are one species of penguin that mate for life. Both parents incubate the single egg, usually for 38 to 40 days, with one parent always staying with the egg or chick.
The Gentoo penguin is the fastest swimmer of all the penguins. It can reach speeds of 22 miles per hour.
Gentoo penguins splashing ashore by Liam Quinn.
Gentoo penguins are also the third largest penguins, with adults growing up to three feet (90 cm) in height. Those living in more northern areas tend to be heavier than those in the southern areas.
Gentoo penguins have the longest tail of all penguins. It is made of stiff feathers that stick out and sweep from side to side as they waddle.
King penguins are the second largest penguins. They can reach a height of 95 cm (just over three feet) and weigh as much as 16 kg (35 pounds).
King Penguins in South Georgia. Photo © Samuel Blanc.
Female king penguins lay pear-shaped eggs with soft shells which gradually thicken throughout the 55-day incubation period. The egg starts out white but eventually becomes pale green.
King penguin chicks take longer to mature than other species. It takes 14 to 16 months before they are ready to go out to sea. They are ready to take their first dives usually during the second summer after their birth, when fish are plentiful.
King Penguin at St. Andrews Bay, South Georgia by Liam Quinn.
The macaroni penguin gets its name from its distinct yellow crest. This crest is absent in chicks and juveniles, only developing at three to four years of age. The macaroni also has a thick orange bill and is the only penguin with red eyes.
Macaroni penguins are the most abundant penguins in the world today, with over eleven million pairs.
Macaroni penguins fight without touching each other (known as air-cushioning) by Liam Quinn.
During the breeding season, a macaroni penguin’s diet is made up of 90% krill. During this time, macaroni penguins consume more krill than any other seabird, eating about 9.2 million tons a year.
There are more male macaroni penguins than females. Because of this, males have one of the most elaborate courtship displays among penguins. Female macaroni penguins are very choosy, often preferring experienced males for partners.
A male macaroni penguin’s courtship display consists of bowing, waving its head from side to side and making loud braying sounds. If the female accepts, she will bow to the male and they will celebrate by making trumpeting sounds together.
Macaroni Penguin, Hannah Point, Livingston Island.
Macaroni penguins have two eggs, although the second one, which is roughly 30% larger than the first, is usually the only one to survive. Parents take turns incubating and end up fasting for about 40 days, during which time they lose up to 40% of their body weight.
The little blue penguin, also known as the fairy penguin, is the smallest penguin species. Little blue penguins are only 33 to 43 cm (13 to 17 inches) tall and weigh 1.5 kg (3.3 pounds) on average.
The little blue penguin is the only penguin not to exhibit a black and white coloration. Instead, it is blue and white, with a grey beak and bluish-grey or hazel eyes. It also has pink feet with black webbing.
Blue Penguin aka Fairy Penguin by Sinead Friel.
The Magellanic penguins were named after Ferdinand Magellan, the explorer who first spotted them. Magellanic penguins mate for life and, like other banded penguins, make their nests in burrows.
Like macaroni penguins, Snares penguins also lay two eggs. The second egg is up to 85% larger than the first and hatches first, so the second chick is usually the only one to survive. Snares penguins come from New Zealand and are named after Snares Island where they breed.
Snares crested penguins.
White-flippered penguins are the only nocturnal penguins. They go into the sea to find food as soon as it gets dark and then return to land just before dawn.
The chinstrap penguin gets its name from the band below its chin, which looks like a helmet strap. This marking makes chinstrap penguins among the easiest penguins to identify.
Chinstrap Penguin at Cooper Bay, South Georgia by Liam Quinn.
Apart from walking and jumping, penguins can move from place to place by sliding on their bellies. This is known as tobogganing.
Chinstrap Penguins tobogganing South Shetland Islands, Antarctica.
Penguins never sleep deeply like we do because of their fear of predators. Rather, they take short naps throughout the day, sometimes while standing up and sometimes while lying on their bellies.
Penguins in the Antarctic show no fear of humans, probably because they are not used to having humans around and because they lack land predators. Out of curiosity, they approach humans but keep a distance of about three feet.
Penguin visits researchers.
In June 2011, a penguin on the brink of death from exhaustion came ashore in New Zealand. Locals took care of it, nursing it back to health. The penguin was named ‘Happy Feet’ and became an international sensation. It was released back into the wild after a full recovery.
Photo01 & Front Cover Emperor Penguin, Atka Bay, Weddell Sea, Antarctica by Hannes Grobe/AWI cc 3.0
Photo02 Great colony of about 60,000 pairs of hatching King Penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus) in Salisbury plain on South Georgia. Pismire cc 3.0
Photo03 Lifecycle of the Emperor Penguin, Zina Deretsky, National Science Foundation
Photo04 Anthropornis nordenskjoeldi, a giant penguin from the early Oligocene, Philip72 cc 3.0
Photo05 Rock hopper penguin at Edinburgh Zoo William Warby cc 2.0 www.flickr.com/photos/wwarby/11280208716/
Photo06 Gentoo Penguin swimming underwater at Nagasaki Penguin Aquarium, Nagasaki, Japan by Ken FUNAKOSHI www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/2388729621 creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en_GB
Photo06b Gentoo Penguin Swimming Priya Venkatesh cc3.0
Photo07 King penguin under water by Jeff Kubina creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en_GB www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/132174537/
Photo08 King penguin showing off its beak at Edinburgh Zoo by William Warby cc 2.0 www.flickr.com/photos/wwarby/11280288994/
Photo09 Penguin at the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga by The Pug Father cc 2.0 www.flickr.com/photos/fleur-design/2751735121/
Photo10 African penguins. Photograph taken on Boulders Beach in South Africa by Charlesjsharp cc 3.0
Photo11 Porpoising Gentoos by Gilad Rom cc 2.0 www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/2346612272/
Photo12 Antarctic adelie penguins by Jerzy Strzelecki cc 3.0
Photo13 Emperor Penguin, Atka Bay, Weddell Sea, Antarctica Hannes Grobe/AWI cc 3.0
Photo14 Kissing magellanic penguins on Península Valdés by longhorndave cc2.0 www.flickr.com/photos/davidw/2313927167/
Photo15 Egg of Adélie Penguin. Collection of Jacques Perrin de Brichambaut by Didier Descouens cc 3.0
Photo16 King Penguins, Gold Harbour, South Georgia by Serge Ouachée cc 1.2
Photo17 King Penguin Chick at Salisbury Plain by Liam Quinn from Canada cc2.0
Photo18 Emperor Penguins with Chicksby Michael Van Woert, NOAA NESDIS, ORA
Photo19 Adelie Penguin by Jerzy Strzelecki cc 1.2
Photo20 African Penguin, Boulders Beach, South Africa by Joachim Huber cc2.0 www.flickr.com/photos/sara_joachim/3186650051/ creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en_GB
Photo21 Jackass penguins (now politely know as African penguins) at Boulders Beach, Simonstown, South Africa by Derek Keats
Photo22 Emperor Penguin, Atka Bay, Weddell Sea, Antarctica by Hannes Grobe/AWI cc 3.0
Photo23 Emperor penguin feeding a chick by Mtpaley cc2.5
Photo24 Galapagos penguin by putneymark www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/1225204055 creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en_GB
Photo25 Gentoo Penguins splashing ashore by Liam Quinn www.flickr.com/photos/liamq/5607596749/ creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en_GB
Photo26 King Penguin (Aptenodytes patagonicus) in South Georgia by Photo © Samuel Blanc cc3.0 commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Manchot_royal_-_King_Penguin.jpg
Photo27 King Penguin at St. Andrews Bay, South Georgia by Liam Quinn cc2.0 www.flickr.com/photos/liamq/5849244500/
Photo28 Macaroni penguins fight without touching each other by Liam Quinn cc2.0 www.flickr.com/photos/liamq/5893100010/
Photo29 Macaroni Penguin, Hannah Point, Livingston Island by Jerzy Strzelecki cc1.2
Photo30 Blue Penguin aka Fairy Penguin by Sinead Friel www.flickr.com/photos/sineadfriel/7643186976/ creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en_GB
Photo31 Snares crested penguins by lin padgham cc2.0 www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/2204677321
Photo32 Chinstrap Penguin at Cooper Bay, South Georgiaby Liam Quinn flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/5893803715 creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en_GB
Photo33 Chinstrap Penguins tobogganing South Shetland Islands, Antarctica by Liam Quinn www.flickr.com/photos/liamq/6020388906/
Photo34 Penguin visits researchers cc3.0 en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:AntarcticaSummer.jpg