Penguins are aquatic, flightless birds most commonly found in the world’s southern hemisphere. Penguins are black and white and, unlike most birds, don’t have wings but have flippers. We mostly know penguins for how cute and cuddly they look, but there is so much more to these animals than meets the eye. These birds are super intelligent and interesting, so let’s look at how penguins live their daily lives. These ten facts about penguins are a brilliant way to teach children about these fascinating birds.
- Penguins have both animal and human predators.
Most of us love penguins and would never want to see them hurt, but that can’t be said for us all. Other sea creatures that are known to target penguins are sharks, orcas, and seals! These animals are far bigger than penguins, so they must keep out of the predators’ way. It is part of the circle of life that penguins should have predators as they eat other sea life, like krill. Although this is part of the circle of life, it doesn’t stop penguins from always trying to escape their predators. A way that penguins do this is by using their black-and-white appearance to their advantage. Penguins do something called countershading, which essentially acts as camouflaging when they are in the water. While they swim, the black on their backs makes it difficult for penguins to be seen by predators from above and the white on their bellies makes them appear to be sunlight shining through the water to the predators below. Penguins also protect themselves by living in large groups. Unfortunately, penguins were once hunted by humans for their oil and eggs. However, penguins are now protected by the law, making such hunting illegal.
- Penguins swim about 15 miles per hour.
Penguins are thought to split their time equally between land and sea. Penguins head to the sea to hunt for food, and the flippers they have instead of wings mean they are very good swimmers. Penguins’ speed varies, but they can swim up to 15 miles per hour! Penguins are thought to reach these top speeds either when they are hunting or when they are being hunted. Penguins also drink seawater, which as humans, we can’t do; this is good since they spend so much time in the water.
- Penguins love to toboggan.
Penguins walk upright on their feet, similar to how humans walk. While penguins are very good at walking and waddling on the ice, they also do something called tobogganing to get around faster. Penguins that live in the polar region can toboggan due to the climate. They will push off using their feet and slide on their bellies along the ice; they can reach some high speeds this way! However, too much tobogganing can result in the feathers on their bellies becoming thin and wearing away, which means they won’t be as insulated and warm. Penguins also use tobogganing as a great way to escape predators, quickly sliding out of their reach.
- Penguins sometimes have a mate for life.
When Penguins choose a partner to mate with, they often stay with this mate for a very long period, which is uncommon in animals, and in some cases, they stay together for life. Female penguins lay one or two eggs at once, and the parents keep the eggs warm. Once the eggs hatch into chicks, the parents also share the responsibility of protecting and feeding the chicks. Emperor penguins incubate eggs using their feet! For a few weeks each year, thousands of baby penguins are left to wait together while their parents go off to forage for food. When the mother and father penguin return, they call out to their baby chicks. Each penguin has a unique audio frequency to their call; the baby chick listens out for this call so they can easily reunite in large crowds.
- Penguins go through something called a catastrophic molt.
Once the adult penguins have returned to their chicks, they undergo a catastrophic molt process. This is where adult penguins lose all their feathers at once. However, penguins have adapted to condense this process into a few weeks. This is because penguins are forced to fast during this period, as they cannot hunt for food without their waterproof feathers. Because of this fasting period, when female penguins choose a mate, they will purposely seek out chubbier penguins as they are better set up for the fasting period!
- Climate change is affecting penguins.
Climate change is a massive threat to penguin life. Global warming in the polar regions has caused the sea ice to melt partially. Penguins rely on the sea ice to hunt for food and build nests; this melting away threatens the penguin’s habitat. Rapidly changing conditions and with the way that the climate is deteriorating, it is predicted that Antarctica could lose most of its penguin life to climate change by the end of the century. To survive, penguins may need to relocate to new habitats.
- Penguins can leap up to 9 feet.
To escape predators, penguins have developed different skills and methods to escape their clutches. For example, when a penguin is chased in the water, it can run to land to reach safety. In addition, penguins can leap up to 9 feet into the air coming from the water; this protects them from the creatures lurking in the sea below. Penguins also jump to heights when diving into the water to propel themselves to the deepest depths possible.
- Penguins can dive down to 1850 feet.
Penguins can dive deep into the ocean to hunt for their food. Penguins are biologically designed to sink as this help with their diving. The deepest dive ever recorded was done by an Emperor penguin that reached a mind-boggling 1850 feet deep. Penguins have been known to dive for up to 22 minutes at one time- that’s a long time to hold their breath! However, penguins have adapted to dive deep and stay underwater for periods to hunt efficiently.
- Penguins were as tall as today’s human man at one point in history.
In recent years, fossils have been discovered that indicate that one particular ancient species of penguin once stood as tall as the average human man. Standing at a whopping 5ft 10, these ancient species would tower over much of the human living today. It’s thought that the penguin would have weighed around 80kg. Today’s largest penguin is the Emperor penguin, which stands at an average height of 3ft 9in. The smallest penguin is the Little penguin which stands at a tiny 33cm on average- a little bit taller than a ruler!
- Penguins are waterproof.
Penguins are waterproof, which is pretty handy considering how much time they spend in the water. Penguins produce a special oil through the preen gland to insulate their bodies. Penguins must stay as warm as possible, and this oil ensures they do! The oil also doubles up as a water repellant and helps penguins keep dry. When a group of penguins is in the water together, this is called a raft!