Penguins are one of Antarctica’s most famous animals. And it’s not hard to see why. These adorable flightless seabirds can make even the coldest of hearts melt.
There are 18 species of penguins waddling across Antarctica and the Sub-Antarctic Islands to New Zealand, Australia, South America, Africa, and even the Galapagos Islands.
Here are 15 fun facts about penguins – everyone’s favourite animal from Antarctica.
All Penguins Live in the Southern Hemisphere
All 18 penguin species reside in the Southern Hemisphere. The Galapagos penguin is the only species to venture north of the equator, heading to the Northern Hemisphere on the occasional fishing trip. On the other hand, the emperor penguin spends its entire life in and around Antarctica, the coldest, most southerly point on the planet.
Penguin Sizes Range From 30cm – 1.3m
With an average height of around 30cm and weighing approximately 1.2 – 1.5kgs, little penguins (also known as fairy penguins or blue penguins) are the smallest member of the penguin family. Emperor penguins are the largest and heaviest living penguin, standing around 1.1 – 1.3m tall and weighing approximately 40kg at the start of the breeding season.
Giant Penguins Once Roamed the Earth
The ancestors of modern penguins may have been approximately 2m tall and weighed over 100kg! Fossils found in Antarctica suggest there were once giant penguins roaming the earth around 37 million years ago. Imagine running into one of these guys on an Antarctica cruise.
Penguins Have Many, Many Ways to Stay Warm
Penguins are renowned for their ability to endure some of the world’s harshest climates and coldest oceans. Their thick layers of feathers and extra reserves of body fat provide excellent insulation. Penguins also produce oil via the preen gland, which they carefully spread over their feathers to insulate their bodies and improve their speed through the water.
But the emperor penguin has taken this ability even further. Emperors have two layers of feathers on their bodies and feathers on their legs, plus smaller features such as flippers and beaks to reduce exposure to the cold. They even have special fats in their feet to prevent them from freezing. The males famously form large, ever-moving huddles during the freezing cold Antarctic winters, working together to ensure they (and their precious eggs) all survive life in one of the most inhospitable places on earth.
Penguins Can ‘Fly’ Through the Water
If you’ve ever seen a penguin hit the water, their ability to swim sure looks a lot like flying. And when your life depends on catching fish and krill every day, you’re going to need to be able to swim pretty fast.
Although all penguins are exceptional swimmers, the Gentoo would claim the gold medal in a sprint race. These incredible swimmers can move at speeds of around 35km/h through the water. Who would win the endurance race? Emperors have been known to dive to depths of over 500m and stay down for longer than 20 minutes at a time.
Penguins can ‘porpoise’ through the water to increase their speed. They also jump into the air before diving to release air bubbles from their feathers and improve their hydrodynamics.
Penguins Have Solid Bones
Bird species typically have hollow bones to assist with flying. Not penguins! Penguins have solid bones to help them sink in the water, enabling them to dive through the water at incredible speeds.
The Collective Noun for Penguins is…
A group of penguins in the water is called a ‘raft’.
A group of penguins on land is called a ‘waddle’.
Other collective nouns for penguins include colony, huddle, and rookery.
Penguins are Faithful Lovers
Many species of penguins, such as gentoos and rockhoppers, are known to partner up for life. Adelie penguins will return to the same spot to greet the same mate every breeding season. And female emperors can spot their mates in a crowded colony, via their unique calls, after months apart during the freezing Antarctic winter.
Penguins are Excellent Walkers
Don’t be fooled by their adorable waddling into thinking a penguin can’t achieve much on land. Many penguins can walk extremely long distances to their nests and breeding grounds across all kinds of terrain.
Emperor penguins are known to waddle and toboggan upwards of 100km to reach their destination, and Snares penguins regularly walk approximately 1 km inland through the forest to reach their colony.
Penguins Closest Relatives are Phenomenal Flyers
Although penguins can’t fly, their closest living relatives are some of the best flyers in the world. Penguins are closely related to the flying superstars of the southern oceans, the giant petrel and the albatross. Both of these birds are exceptional long-distance flyers. The wandering albatross has the largest wingspan and the ability to fly up to 800km in a single day!
The Penguin Tuxedo is Actually Camouflage
Life in the oceans is dangerous, and many predators lurk above and below. Penguins all have similar colouring to help them survive. The black on their backs helps penguins blend in with the dark ocean when seen from above. While their white bellies are similar to the bright surface when viewed from below.
Some Penguins Build Rock Nests
Penguin species such as gentoo, Adelie, and chinstrap penguins spend significant amounts of time collecting rocks and pebbles to build the perfect nest during the breeding season. Males will try to impress their female mates with their nest building skills and may even steal rocks from their neighbours during this heated time.
Penguins build their rock nests on slopes to avoid having meting ice-water run through their homes. Pretty clever.
There are 7 Species of Crested Penguins
The rock stars of the penguin world are characterized by their unique yellow plumes billowing from the tops of their heads. We think the macaroni is the coolest in both name and appearance of all the crested penguins, although the rockhopper may give it a run for its money.
Penguins Make Fantastic Fathers
Male penguins don’t mind shouldering a little responsibility when it comes to raising their young. All male penguins play an active role in looking after their young, but the father of the year award is definitely going to the emperor penguin.
Male emperors are renowned for taking the sole responsibility of keeping their precious eggs warm through the depths of winter in Antarctica. After laying the egg, the female penguin heads off to sea for around two months on a much-needed fishing trip. All the while, the male emperors protect their eggs from the freezing conditions, safely tucking the egg away in their brood pouch and huddling together for warmth.
Penguins Rear Their Chicks in a Creche
Many penguin species will form creches to help raise their young. When living in large colonies, it is advantageous for penguins to rear their chicks in the presence of multiple adults. This behaviour enables the parents to head off on fishing trips while simultaneously protecting the colony’s young from other aggressive adults or predators.
Who doesn’t love penguins? Penguins are incredible creatures and an absolute highlight of cruises to the Antarctic and Sub-Antarctic regions! Please read our dedicated guide to the world’s penguin species or our Antarctica Wildlife Guide for more information on our adorable friends.