10 facts about penguins

Fun facts about penguins!

Penguins are amazing birds! They are not quite like any bird you have seen before in your backyard or at the park. They have adapted to their cold environment in a way that makes them pretty special. Here are some fun facts:

– Penguins are flightless birds.

– While other birds have wings for flying, penguins have adapted flippers to help them swim in the water.

– Most penguins live in the Southern Hemisphere.

– The Galapagos Penguin is the only penguin species that ventures north of the equator in the wild.

– Large penguin populations can be found in countries such as New Zealand, Australia, Chile, Argentina and South Africa.

– No penguins live at the North Pole.

– Penguins eat a range of fish and other sealife that they catch underwater.

– Penguins can drink sea water.

– Penguins spend around half their time in water and the other half on land.

– The Emperor Penguin is the tallest of all penguin species, reaching as tall as 120 cm (47 in) in height.

– Emperor Penguins can stay underwater for around 20 minutes at a time.

– Emperor Penguins often huddle together to keep warm in the cold temperatures of Antarctica.

– King Penguins are the second largest penguin species. They have four layers of feathers to help keep them warm on the cold subantarctic islands where they breed.

– Chinstrap Penguins get their name from the thin black band under their head. At times it looks like they’re wearing a black helmet, which might be useful as they’re considered the most aggressive type of penguin.

– Crested penguins have yellow crests, as well as red bills and eyes.

– Yellow eyed penguins (or Hoiho) are endangered penguins native to New Zealand. Their population is believed to be around 4000.

– Little Blue Penguins are the smallest type of penguin, averaging around 33 cm (13 in) in height.

– A Penguin’s black and white plumage serves as camouflage while swimming. The black plumage on their back is hard to see from above, while the white plumage on their front looks like the sun reflecting off the surface of the water when seen from below.

– Penguins in Antarctica have no land based predators.

Source: Science Kids

Penguins are a flightless bird that live in Antarctica, but what fun facts do you know about penguins?

Check out these top 25 interesting facts about penguins!

Penguins eat snow as a source of fresh water.

The name comes from Welsh terms ‘pen’, meaning head and ‘gwyn’, meaning white.

A penguin is an unofficial symbol of the United States Libertarian Party.

Penguins lay eggs.

In cold places, male penguins balance eggs on their feet and cover with belly flap to keep them warm.

When the chick hatches, it immediately starts calling so that its parents will learn to recognize its voice.

Penguins can’t fly, they swim.

The Linux mascot ‘Tux’ is a penguin.

Penguin chicks have fluffy feathers.

A group of penguins are called colonies or rookery.

They usually move in large groups to keep warm.

Penguins can jump 6 feet out of water.

Penguins live in the Southern Hemisphere.

Most penguins can swim about 15 miles per hour.

Penguins have insulating layers of air, skin, and blubber.

They are ancient species that first appeared around 40 million years ago.

There are 17 different species of penguins in the world, the most commonly recognized being the Emperor penguin.

The first penguin fossil to be discovered was found in rocks that were around 25 million years old.

A prehistoric skeleton of a penguin was found and is actually bigger than any living penguin that exists, it is believed they were up to 5ft tall (1.5 meters).

The four penguins in the film Madagascar are named Skipper, Kowalski, Rico and Private.

Penguins open their feather to feel the cold.

Their white bellies blend with the snow and sunlight making it difficult for an underwater predator to see them.

About 75% of a penguins life is spent in water, where they do all their hunting.

Penguins use their wings for swimming.

In general, a penguins lifespan ranges from 15 to 20 years.


Penguins seem a bit out of place on land, with their stand-out black jackets and clumsy waddling. But once you see their grace in the water, you know that’s where they’re meant to be–they are well-adapted to life in the ocean.

April 25 of each year is World Penguin Day, and to celebrate here are 14 facts about these charismatic seabirds.

1. Depending on which scientist you ask, there are 17–20 species of penguins alive today, all of which live in the southern half of the globe. The most northerly penguins are Galapagos penguins (Spheniscus mendiculus), which occasionally poke their heads north of the equator.

2. 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.

3. Most penguins swim underwater at around four to seven miles per hour (mph), but the fastest penguin—the gentoo (Pygoscelis papua)—can reach top speeds of 22 mph!

Gentoo penguins “porpoise” by jumping out of the water. They can move faster through air than water, so will often porpoise to escape from a predator. (Photo: Gilad Rom (Flickr))

4. 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.

5. The earliest known penguin fossil was found in 61.6 million-year old Antarctic rock, about 4-5 million years after the mass extinction that killed the dinosaurs. Waimanu manneringi stood upright and waddled like modern day penguins, but was likely more awkward in the water. Some fossil penguins were much larger than any penguin living today, reaching 4.5 feet tall!

6. Like other birds, penguins don’t have teeth. Instead, they have backward-facing fleshy spines that line the inside of their mouths. These help them guide their fishy meals down their throat.

An endangered African penguin brays with its mouth open, showing off the bristly inside of its mouth. (Photo by Dimi P (Flickr), with permission)

7. Penguins are carnivores: they feed on fish, squid, crabs, krill and other seafood they catch while swimming. During the summer, an active, medium-sized penguin will eat about 2 pounds of food each day, but in the winter they’ll eat just a third of that.

8. 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! But this doesn’t mean they chug seawater to quench their thirst: penguins drink meltwater from pools and streams and eat snow for their hydration fix.

9. Another adaptive gland—the oil (also called preen) gland—produces waterproofing oil. Penguins spread this across their feathers to insulate their bodies and reduce friction when they glide through the water.

10. Once a year, penguins experience a catastrophic molt. (Yes, that’s the official term.) Most birds molt (lose feathers and regrow them) a few at a time throughout the year, but penguins lose them all at once. They can’t swim and fish without feathers, so they fatten themselves up beforehand to survive the 2–3 weeks it takes to replace them.

An emperor penguin loses its old feathers (the fluffy ones) as new ones grow in underneath. (Photo by Carlie Reum, National Science Foundation)

11. Feathers are quite important to penguins living around Antarctica during the winter. Emperor penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri) have the highest feather density of any bird, at 100 feathers per square inch. In fact, the surface feathers can get even colder than the surrounding air, helping to keep the penguin’s body stays warm.

12. 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.

13. Climate change will likely affect different penguin species differently—but in the Antarctic, it appears that the loss of krill, a primary food source, is the main problem. In some areas with sea ice melt, krill density has decreased 80 percent since the 1970s, indirectly harming penguin populations. However, some colonies of Adelie penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae) have grown as the melting ice exposes more rocky nesting areas.

14. Of the 17 penguin species, the most endangered is New Zealand’s yellow-eyed penguin (Megadyptes antipodes): only around 4,000 birds survive in the wild today. But other species are in trouble, including the erect-crested penguin (Eudyptes sclateri) of New Zealand, which has lost approximately 70 percent of its population over the past 20 years, and the Galapagos penguin, which has lost more than 50 percent since the 1970s.

Learn more about the ocean from the Smithsonian’s Ocean Portal.

Penguins are torpedo-shaped, flightless birds that live in the southern regions of the Earth. Though many people imagine a small, black-and-white animal when they think of penguins, these birds actually come in a variety of sizes, and some are very colorful.

For example, crested penguins sport a crown of yellow feathers. Blushes of orange and yellow mark the necks of emperor and king penguins. What look like bright yellow, bushy eyebrows adorn the heads of some species, such as the Fiordland, royal, Snares and rockhopper penguins. The macaroni penguin’s name comes from the crest of yellow feathers on its head, which looks like the 18th-century hats of the same name. A light yellow mask covers the face of the yellow-eyed penguin around the eyes.

An Adélie penguin on Penguin Island, which forms part of the South Shetland Islands of Antarctica. (Image credit: Gemma Clucas)

According to the Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS), there are 19 species of penguin. (Some experts, however, say the eastern rockhopper is a subspecies of the southern rockhopper.)

The smallest penguin species is the little (also called little blue) penguin. These birds grow to 10 to 12 inches (25.4 to 30.48 centimeters) tall and weigh only 2 to 3 lbs. (0.90 to 1.36 kilograms). The largest penguin is the emperor penguin. It grows to 36 to 44 inches (91.44 to 111.76 cm) tall and weighs 60 to 90 lbs (27.21 to 40.82 kg).

Where do penguins live?

Considered marine birds, penguins live up to 80 percent of their lives in the ocean, according to the New England Aquarium. All penguins live in the Southern Hemisphere, though it is a common myth that they all live in Antarctica. In fact, penguins can be found on every continent in the Southern Hemisphere. It is also a myth that penguins can only live in cold climates. The Galapagos penguin, for example, lives on tropical islands at the equator.

What do penguins eat?

Penguins are carnivores; they eat only meat. Their diet includes krill (tiny crustaceans), squid and fish. Some species of penguin can make a large dent in an area’s food supply. For example, the breeding population of Adélie penguins (about 2,370,000 pairs) can consume up to 1.5 million metric tons (1.5 billion kg) of krill, 115,000 metric tons (115 million kg) of fish and 3,500 metric tons (3.5 million kg) of squid each year, according to Sea World.

The yellow-eyed penguin is very tenacious when foraging for food. It will dive as deep as 120 meters (393.70 feet) up to 200 times a day looking for fish, according to the Yellow-Eyed Penguin Trust.

Mating & baby penguins

A group of penguins is called a colony, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. During breeding season, penguins come ashore to form huge colonies called rookeries, according to Sea World.

Most penguins are monogamous. This means that male and female pairs will mate exclusively with each other for the duration of mating season. In many cases, the male and female will continue to mate with each other for most of their lives. For example, research has found that chinstrap penguins re-paired with the same partner 82 percent of the time and gentoo penguins re-paired 90 percent of the time.

At around three to eight years old, a penguin is mature enough to mate. Most species breed during the spring and summer. The male usually starts the mating ritual and will pick out a nice nesting site before he approaches a female.

After mating, the female emperor or king penguin will lay a single egg. All other species of penguins lay two eggs. The two parents will take turns holding the eggs between their legs for warmth in a nest. The one exception is the emperor penguin. The female of this species will place the egg on the male’s feet to keep warm in his fat folds while she goes out and hunts for several weeks.

When penguin chicks are ready to hatch, they use their beaks to break through the shell of their eggs. This process can take up to three days. After the chicks emerge, the parents will take turns feeding their offspring with regurgitated food. Penguin parents can identify their offspring by unique calls that the chick will make.

Emperor penguins may migrate to find new nesting grounds. (Image credit: Michelle LaRue)


The taxonomy of penguins, according to ITIS, is:

Kingdom: Animalia Subkingdom: Bilateria Infrakingdom: Deuterostomia Phylum: Chordata Subphylum: Vertebrata Infraphylum: Gnathostomata Superclass: Tetrapoda Class: Aves Order: Sphenisciformes Family: Spheniscidae Genera: Aptenodytes, Eudyptes, Eudyptula, Megadyptes, Pygoscelis and Spheniscus Species:

  • Aptenodytes forsteri (emperor penguin)
  • Aptenodytes patagonicus (king penguin)
  • Eudyptes chrysocome (southern rockhopper penguin)
  • Eudyptes chrysolophus (macaroni penguin)
  • Eudyptes filholi (eastern rockhopper penguin; considered by some to be a subspecies of southern rockhopper)
  • Eudyptes moseleyi (northern rockhopper penguin)
  • Eudyptes pachyrhynchus (Fiordland penguin)
  • Eudyptes robustus (Snares penguin)
  • Eudyptes schlegeli (royal penguin)
  • Eudyptes sclateri (erect-crested penguin)
  • Eudyptula minor (little penguin, also called little blue penguin)
  • Megadyptes antipodes (yellow-eyed penguin)
  • Pygoscelis adeliae (Adélie penguin)
  • Pygoscelis antarcticus (chinstrap penguin)
  • Pygoscelis papua (gentoo penguin)
  • Spheniscus demersus (jackass penguin, also called African penguin)
  • Spheniscus humboldti (Humboldt penguin)
  • Spheniscus magellanicus (Magellanic penguin)
  • Spheniscus mendiculus (Galapagos penguin)

Conservation status

According to the Red List of Threatened Species from the International Union for Conservation of Nature, four penguin species are endangered: northern rockhopper, erect-crested, yellow-eyed, jackass and Galapagos penguins. Most of the other species of penguins are listed as vulnerable or threatened.

Other facts

The chinstrap penguin has a stripe of black that runs from one side of its head to the other. This strip looks like a chinstrap.

The shape of all penguins makes them aerodynamic. It is the perfect shape for gliding through the water as they swim.

Most birds have hollow bones. Penguins do not. Their heavier bones counteract the birds’ natural buoyancy, making them very quick swimmers. Penguins can swim up to 15 mph (24.14 kph) according to the World Wildlife Fund.

Rockhoppers do not glide on their bellies like other penguins. They instead hop from rock to rock to move across land quickly.

Additional resources

20 Fun Facts About Penguins!

20 Fun Facts about Penguins!

Compiled by Jacklyn Szetu
1. Penguins are carnivorous animals and catch their prey live in the sea.
2. Penguins vary widely in shape and size, with the emperor penguin being the largest weighing up to 41 kilograms and the little penguin being the smallest, averaging only 1 kilogram.
3. Chinstrap penguins on Zavodovski Island in the South Sandwich Islands currently hold the Guinness World Record for largest penguin colony, consisting of approximately 2 million penguins.
4. Penguins do not have teeth but do have spines on both their tongues and the inside of their beaks to help them grip their prey.
5. Scientists have discovered some penguins swallowing small stones and pebbles. Scientists speculate that this could aid the digestion of food or reduce buoyancy when diving.
6. Penguins cannot breathe underwater; the duration of their dives varies between species, from 7 to 20 minutes.
7. Like dogs, penguins pant to release heat and stay cool.
8. Penguins can drink salt water as their supraorbital gland filters the salt from their bloodstream.
9. Penguins have large solid bones without air spaces to facilitate diving by reducing buoyancy.
10. Emperor penguins have the highest density of feathers in the world, averaging 100 feathers per 6.5 square centimeters.
11. The largest penguin fossils found by archeologists have been up to 5 feet tall.
12. In 2009 a Humboldt penguin, zookeepers named “Ralph” lost all of his feathers and was fitted with a wetsuit to prevent sunburn.
13. Gentoo penguins are the world’s fastest underwater birds; they can reach speeds of up to 36 kilometers per hour!
14. Of the eighteen penguin species, five are categorized as endangered on the IUCN Red List.
15. Penguins produce oil from a gland near their tails, which they use to provide a waterproof coat for their feathers.
16. A healthy adult penguin in Antarctica has no terrestrial predators.
17. During each breeding season, the king and emperor penguins will only lay one egg.
18. Emperor penguins huddle together to protect themselves from the wind and cold, they each take turns moving into the safer and warm interior of the huddle.
19. The stereotypical gender roles are reversed in emperor penguins, as the female goes out to hunt whilst the male incubates the egg. Once hatched, the male will also produce milk for the chick from a gland in his esophagus.
20. Male gentoo penguins give pebbles to females in order to court them during mating season. If the female accepts the offer she will take the pebble and add it to her nest.

Most recent

By Roger Di Silvestro, Ocean Conservancy

The tuxedo seems to have two separate origins. Why the fashion industry came up with the tux and why it hasn’t vanished with the top hat, is tough to say. But why penguins evolved into tuxedo-wearing birds is pretty clear: The white belly makes them harder to spot when viewed in water from below against the surface of a sunlit sea and the black back does the same against the dark ocean surface. It’s all about tricking predators. The survival of this monochromatic color scheme in all 17 penguin species is a measure of how well it has worked in nature’s often-unforgiving game of survival.

Adelie penguin. Photo credit: Alexis Janosik

Here are 10 other fun facts to know about penguins.

1. Penguins are birds designed by evolution for swimming rather than flying. Their wings have turned into flippers and though they usually walk upright on land, some drop on to their bellies to scoot over ice. Most species cruise underwater at an average speed of 4-7 miles per hour, but the Gentoo can speed up to 22 miles per hour.

2. All penguins live south of the equator. Although we often associate them with Antarctic, they also occur farther north on beaches and rocky shores in coastal South America, the Galapagos Islands, Australia and South Africa.

3. The largest penguin you will ever see trundling around the Antarctic is the emperor, which can stand in excess of 3.5 feet tall and weigh nearly 80 pounds, roughly the weight of two or three Thanksgiving turkeys. The emperor is also the only bird species that nests in the Antarctic during the winter, when temperatures can drop below minus 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

Emperor penguins. Photo credit: Wikimedia

4. The smallest penguin is the little blue or fairy penguin, which grows barely more than two pounds and 16 inches tall and is found in Australia and New Zealand.

5. The largest known penguin of all time is Anthropornis nordenskjoeldi or giant penguin, which lived more than 37 million years ago, stood 5 feet 7 inches tall and weighed 200 pounds. Its rival in size, the New Zealand giant, dates from around 30 million years ago, stood 5 feet tall and weighed close to 130 pounds.

6. Small penguins usually feed at the surface of the sea, rarely diving for more than a couple minutes. The emperor, however, can dive for more than 20 minutes, reaching depths in excess of 1,800 feet to feed on fish, squid, krill and other crustaceans.

7. Penguins can drink sea water. Salt is filtered from the blood by special glands and the salt is secreted from the nasal passages.

Magellanic penguins. Photo credit: Erika Fortin

8. With the exception of yellow-eyed and Fiordland penguins, these birds are colonial nesters, gathering in breeding groups that range in number from 100 pairs among gentoo penguins to several hundred thousand in the king, macaroni and chinstrap species. In most species, each pair produces two eggs, though emperor and king penguins—the two largest living species—usually lay only one egg. Among emperors, males incubate the eggs, but in all other species mom and dad take turns. The little blue penguin lays the smallest eggs, about 2 ounces and the emperor pops out the largest, which can weigh a full pound.

9. In the Antarctic, penguins have no land predators, though skuas—gull-like, predatory birds—may feed on eggs and hatchlings. Consequently, penguins have no fear of people and may approach to with a few feet of Antarctic visitors. This defenseless behavior might have proved fatal for penguin species, as it did for other flightless birds such as the dodo and the great auk, wiped out centuries ago by ship crews who took them for food. But Antarctic penguins got lucky. Surrounded by dangerously rough seas and harsh climate, the Antarctic proved a penguin haven. No human set foot there until the 1800s.

10. The oldest known penguin species, Waimanu manneringi, was found in New Zealand as a 62-million-year-old fossil. Looking something like a loon, it had short wings designed for diving but not flight.

The Ocean Conservancy is using science-based solutions to tackle the biggest threats to our ocean, including ones that threaten penguins and other wildlife. See how you can take action here.


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Penguins are a group of aquatic, flightless birds.

The number of extant penguin species is debated. Depending on which authority is followed, penguin
biodiversity varies between 17 and 20 living species.

They live almost exclusively in the Southern Hemisphere, with only one species, the Galapagos penguin, found north of the equator. They actually occupy habitats which are located on each of the five continents within the southern hemisphere.

The habitat for penguins is going to depend on the species you are talking about. Some of them are able to live in the coldest parts of the world. Others live very close to the equator where it is quite warm.

Major populations of penguins are found in Antarctica, Argentina, Australia, Chile, New Zealand, and South Africa.

Penguin lifespan ranges from 6 to 27 years, varying from species to species; But most species has lifespan from 15 to 20 years.

The largest penguin species is the the emperor penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri) reaching 122 centimeters (48 inches) in height and weighing from 22 to 45 kilogram (49 to 99 pounds).

The smallest penguin species is the little blue penguin (Eudyptula minor), also known as the fairy penguin, which stands around 40 cm (16 in) tall and weighs about 1.5 kilogram (3.3 pounds) on average.

All penguins have to live close to a body of water where they can hunt for food.

Penguins are carnivores. They generally eat fish, squid and krill, though their diet depends on the species. Generally, penguins living close to the equator eat more fish, while penguins in arctic climates rely on squid and krill for sustenance.

They spend about 75% of their life in the water.

Their wings have evolved into flippers, allowing the bird to swim underwater with amazing speed.

Penguins’ swimming looks very similar to bird’s flight in the air.

Penguins can dive further and swim faster than any other bird.

Most penguins swim underwater at around 7 to 11 kilometers (4 to 7 miles) per hour, but the fastest penguin – the gentoo (Pygoscelis papua) – can reach top speeds of 35 kilometers (22 miles) per hour!

They can walk between 2.7 km/h (1.7 mph) and 3.8 km/h (2.4 mph).

Penguins are not able to breathe underwater; however, all of the penguin species can hold their breath for as long as 15 minutes.

Emperor penguins are the undisputed champions of diving in the world of penguins. They can travel more than 500 meters (1,640 feet) below the surface, and stay submerged for more than 20 minutes, even though by all accounts their oxygen should run out in just a fraction of that.

Penguin’s black and white plumage serves as camouflage while swimming. The black plumage on their back is hard to see from above, while the white plumage on their front looks like the sun reflecting off the surface of the water when seen from below.

A penguin’s eyes are adapted to see clearly both in air and under water. Penguins have color vision and are sensitive to violet, blue, and green wavelengths of light and possibly to ultraviolet light as well.

It is also believed that they have good sense of smell.

At sea penguins must drink salt water and they are able to do this because they have special glands abound the eye sockets that extract excess salt from the blood. The excess salt is excreted as a salty fluid through the nasal passages.

Another adaptive gland — the oil (also called preen) gland — produces waterproofing oil. Penguins spread this across their feathers to insulate their bodies and reduce friction when they glide through the water.

Unlike most birds – which lose and replace a few feathers at a time – penguins molt all at once, spending two or three weeks land-bound as they undergo what is called the catastrophic molt.

Penguins usually lie down or stand up when sleeping on land, whereas they float when resting in the water. They often tuck their heads below their wings when they sleep in a standing position.

Penguins can control the blood flow to their extremities in order to reduce the amount of blood that gets cold, but still keeping the extremities from freezing.

Penguins are highly social birds. Even at sea, penguins usually swim and feed in groups.

Penguins for the most part breed in large colonies, the exceptions being the yellow-eyed and Fiordland species; these colonies may range in size from as few as a 100 pairs for gentoo penguins, to several hundred thousand in the case of king , macaroni and chinstrap penguins.

Penguins form monogamous pairs for a breeding season, though the rate the same pair recouples varies drastically. Most penguins lay two eggs in a clutch, although the two largest species, the emperor and the king penguins, lay only one.

With the exception of the emperor penguin, where the male does it all, all penguins share the incubation duties. These incubation shifts can last days and even weeks as one member of the pair feeds at sea.

The incubation period varies with species. It may be as short as one month, as in the erect-crested penguins, or as long as 62 to 66 days for emperor penguins.

When penguin chicks are ready to hatch, they use their beaks to break through the shell of their eggs. This process can take up to three days.

A chick depends on its parents for survival between hatching and the growth of its waterproof feathers before it can fledge (leave the colony to go forage at sea.) This period may range from seven to nine weeks for Adélie chicks to 13 months for king penguin chicks.

Penguin calls (vocalizations) are individually identifiable, allowing mates to recognize each other and also their chick. This is important because members of a large colony of penguins are nearly indistinguishable by sight.

Approximately 1 in 50,000 (of most species) are born with brown rather than black plumage. These are called isabelline penguins. Isabellinism is different from albinism. Isabelline penguins tend to live shorter lives than normal penguins, as they are not well-camouflaged against the deep, and are often passed over as mates.

Land predators of the various penguin species include lizards, skuas, snakes, other birds and ferrets. Water predators consist largely of killer whales, leopard seals and sharks.

According to the Red List of Threatened Species from the International Union for Conservation of Nature, four penguin species are endangered: northern rockhopper, erect-crested, yellow-eyed, jackass and Galapagos penguins. Most of the other species of penguins are listed as vulnerable or threatened.

The earliest known penguin fossil was found in 61.6 million-year old Antarctic rock, about 4-5 million years after the mass extinction that killed the dinosaurs.

Penguins are popular around the world, primarily for their unusually upright, waddling gait and (compared to other birds) lack of fear of humans.

Penguins have been the subject of many books and films, such as Happy Feet, Surf’s Up and The Penguins of Madagascar.

January 20th is Penguin Awareness Day, Green Monsters! Penguin Awareness Day has been designated as a time to honor, learn about, and appreciate these amazing creatures. To commemorate the occasion, we have put together this list of interesting penguin facts you may not have heard before, as well as some suggestions on how you can help them. Enjoy!

1. Penguins were once able to fly.

As members of the bird kingdom who are unable to fly, penguins have always seemed a little unusual. However, researchers at Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) have found that at a certain point in their evolutionary journey, penguins could once fly. As penguins’ bodies became more adapted to the water, “getting off the ground eventually just took too much effort for birds that were becoming expert swimmers.” So, they effectively traded in their prior ability of flight for another, more useful one.


2. A penguin’s swimming style is called “The Porpoise.”

Penguins are renowned for their swimming style of leaping in and out of the water in short, shallow arcs: a practice known as porpoising. Porpoising uses up a lot more energy than staying completely submerged beneath the water’s surface, but it does allow the penguin to breathe more regularly, while also disorientating both predators and prey. Penguins have also been known to porpoise out of sheer joy or excitement!

3. Emperor penguins can march hundreds of kilometers to reach their breeding sites.

Emperor penguins are famous for their long and grueling marches that occur in March and April every year, where they can walk as far as 120 kilometers across the sea ice to their breeding sites. If you want to get a taste of what the experience is like for them, check out this six-minute YouTube video detailing their journey.

4. Emperor penguins go against conventional male–female parenting roles.

In most animal species, it has been observed that the female stays in the nest to look after her offspring, while the father goes out to procure food. However, the Emperor penguin does things a little differently! According to Live Science, “The male penguin incubates his mate’s egg while she goes out to feed. And once the little chick hatches, the male penguin feeds it with milk that he produces in his esophagus.”

5. Most penguins live exclusively in the southern hemisphere.

The great majority of penguin species reside in the Southern Hemisphere all year round – with the notable exception of the Galápagos penguin, which is native to the Galápagos islands off the coast of Ecuador, and may occasionally cross into the Northern Hemisphere while feeding or nesting.


6. Many penguin species are endangered.

Here’s a sad fact for you, Green Monsters: of the eighteen penguin species listed on the IUCN’s Red List of threatened and endangered animals, fifteen of them are considered to be under threat. Some, such as the Emperor penguin or Magellanic penguin, are “near threatened,” while the Galápagos and Yellow-Eyed penguin are “endangered.”

7. Penguins are colonial birds.

Colonial birds are defined as “bird species that nest and breed in close proximity as a group, often sharing communal behaviors for the benefit of the entire group.” Penguin colonies can consist of tens of thousands of birds, with the largest known colony on St Croix Island near Port Elizabeth, South Africa, numbering 50,000.


8. A penguin’s eyes work just as well underwater as they do above ground.

A penguin’s eyesight is very sharp, and works just as well underwater as it does in the air. Because penguins eat a wide variety of undersea prey – including fish, krill, and molluscs – this trait enables them to find food more easily, even in dark, cloudy, or murky water.

9. Most penguins are monogamous.

The majority of penguin species are monogamous, often returning to the same partner during breeding seasons for several years in a row. In 2012, Argentinian researchers found that one particular pair of Magellanic penguins had remained faithful to one another for sixteen years, despite spending long periods apart, making them two of the most faithful lovebirds in the animal kingdom.


10. There is enormous variation in size between different penguin species.

The Emperor penguin is the largest penguin species in existence, with a height of up to four feet and a weight of eighty-eight pounds. The smallest known penguin species is the Fairy penguin, who stands at just forty-five centimeters tall, and weighs two pounds.

How You Can Help Penguins Today

  • Share this article to help spread the news that penguins, just like humans, are multifaceted beings, with intriguing social, cultural, and even romantic lives that we may never have considered before.
  • Check out the New-Zealand based Yellow-Eyed Penguin Trust, which aims to conserve the endangered yellow-eyed penguin. You can find out more about their work here, and donate here.
  • Lend your support to the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Magellanic penguin conservation program. You can donate here, and find out more on how to be an active wildlife advocate here.
  • Take a look at the International Penguin Conservation Working Group (IPCWG). Their mission is “to promote penguin conservation worldwide, by drawing international attention to the threats facing penguin populations. The IPCWG also acts as a focus for individuals and organizations working with penguins, in order to share ideas and information, and to provide international support for local conservation issues.”
  • Sign this petition by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) urging the New York Stock Exchange to stop exhibiting SeaWorld penguins on the stock floor.