Scientific Name: Family – Spheniscidae
Conservation Status: Check our species pages for each species conservation status.
Penguins are a variety of flightless bird adapted for a life swimming. There are currently between 17 and 20 recognised species of penguin depending on which authority is followed.
They range in size from the smallest being the little penguin (Eudyptula minor) which stands just 33cm (13in) tall. The largest is the emperor penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri) which stands 100-120cm (39-47in) tall.
Their wings are adapted in to flippers which they use for swimming under the water. They are incapable of flight.
Their feather’s overlap helping them to remain waterproof when under the water. Unlike most bird’s which have hollow bone’s, so they can fly penguins have dense, solid bones to counteract their buoyancy.
All species exhibit countershading. Their underside is white while their back is a dark colour. These dark colours vary by species. This means that their white underside appears similar to the water’s surface when viewed from below by predators. Meanwhile their dark back looks like the water’s surface when seen from above.
Each year penguins undergo a moult where they shed their old feather’s and grow new ones. This replaces feather’s which have been damaged over the last year helping to keep them waterproof.
Lifespan varies based on species but most average a lifespan around 20 years.
Penguins eat a wide range of foods based on their size and habitat. They are all carnivorous with most of their food coming from the sea. Some food’s eaten by these animals include krill, shrimp, fish and squid.
They are able to drink sea water as the supraorbital gland filters excess salt from the blood to be excreted from the nose.
Most penguins are found in the Southern hemisphere though the Galapagos penguin (Spheniscus mendiculus) does travel north of the equator. Penguins are found nesting around the coast of Australia, Africa, South America and Antarctica along with a range of island’s off the coast of these countries.
Typically, the larger species live in the Southern area’s which are colder with the smaller species found closer to the equator.
They are capable of swimming long distance’s but usually always nest at the site where they were born.
Penguin’s breed together in colonies. They lay eggs with the parent’s sitting on them to incubate the egg’s and working together to raise the young. Most specie’s share incubation duties and while one parent is at sea hunting for food the other will incubate the egg’s or care for the young.
Most penguin’s lay two egg’s though the emperor and king penguin’s only lay the one.
Once the young wean from their parent’s they will often disperse from the colony and spend months at sea travelling large distance’s in this time. When they sexually mature they will return to the beach where they hatched to raise their family.
A penguin may spend up to 75% of their life at sea as this is where they find most of their food.
Penguins are highly social animal’s which live in colonies. When hunting they sometimes go out alone.
They will regularly preen which involves cleaning their feathers to make sure they remain waterproof. An oil is secreted from a gland near the tail which they use to coat their feather’s.
Most penguin’s only dive under the water for short period’s before returning to the surface to breath. Some though have been recorded diving under the water for up to 27 minutes and reaching depths of up to 565m (1,854ft).
Predator’s of penguins including sharks, killer whales, shells and sheathbills. In the past they were threatened by sled dogs, but these have since been removed from Antarctica.
Each penguin has a unique sound and they will call with this to locate their mate in large groups.
Penguin’s are popular in pop culture and have starred in many movie’s and tv program’s such as Mr popper’s penguins, the penguins of Madagascar, pingu, happy feet and surf’s up.
To find out more about penguin’s explore the pages on individual species below.
Top – By Hannes Grobe/AWI (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Bottom – Own Work