30+ Interesting Facts About Penguins

  1. Penguins are flightless marine birds. They spend their life on land and in the sea.
  2. There are between 18 and 21 species of penguins. The blue (or fairy) penguin is the smallest, while the emperor penguin is the largest penguin species.
  3. Almost all species live in the Southern Hemisphere, particularly on the Antarctic coast and sub-Antarctic islands. Few penguin species inhabit temperate regions. The Galapagos penguin is the only species that reside at the equator.
  4. Unlike other birds, penguins have flippers instead of wings. These flippers are primarily for faster swimming and other underwater movements. Penguins also have small and dense feathers on their flippers that provide insulation. Flippers are also helpful for maintaining balance on land and for communication purposes. (Source)
  5. Penguins are carnivorous animals that eat fish, krill, squid, and other marine animals. Smaller species usually eat small and large krill, while larger species (like emperor and king penguins) prefer fishes and squids as their main food. Few penguin species swallow stones either to aid digestion or to reduce hunger sensation. Penguins may observe fasting during breeding seasons and molting periods. (Source)
  6. Few extinct penguin species were very tall and heavy. Colossus penguins are the largest known penguin species, with lengths and weights of up to 2 meters (78 inches) and 115 kg, respectively. (Source)
  7. The oldest penguin fossil dates back to the Paleocene era, around 61 million years ago. The length of this penguin was 150 cm (59 inches). (Source)
  8. Penguins can swim very fast. The Gentoo penguin is the fastest swimming penguin, having a speed of up to 22 mph (36 km/h). They can achieve this swimming speed using their torpedo-like body shape, heavy bones, etc.
  9. In contrast to fast movement in the water, penguins move very slowly on land due to their short legs and big feet. Their walking, or waddle, speed on land is between 1 mph and 2.5 mph. Few species in Antarctica can slide on their tummies (tobogganing) on a soft icy surface. (Source)
  10. Albatrosses and petrels are the closest living relatives of penguins. Emperor penguins appeared earlier on earth before other extinct penguin species. (Source)
  11. Penguins have several techniques to avoid predators. Their black and white color provides camouflage in the water. They can also jump out of the water on land at high speed. They escape from enemies on land by tobogganing and breeding in intensely cold environments. (Source)
  12. There were 500,000 pairs of king penguins a few decades ago in Ile aux Cochons, a volcanic island between Antarctica and Madagascar. It was the largest king penguin colony and the 2nd largest colony of penguins in the world. In 2017, their population reduced by 90% as around 900,000 king penguins vanished without any trace. (Source)
  13. Emperor penguins are the deepest diving birds in the world. The deepest underwater dive ever recorded by an emperor penguin is 564 m (1,850 ft.) in Antarctica on 19th July 2006. Emperor penguins can remain beneath the surface of water for more than 32 minutes. (Source)
  14. Penguins have clear vision both underwater and in the air. They also have color vision. However, their hearing and sense of smell are relatively weak.
  15. Penguins have several features that allow them to remain warm in an extremely cold atmosphere. These include fat layer, feathers, and adjusted blood flow to feet and flippers. (Source)
  16. The male members of Adelie and Gentoo penguins present the right-size pebbles to females as a gift. If the female accepts the gift, the two start building their nest.
    Adelie penguins on an island
    Male Adelie penguins give pebbles as gift to females

  17. Penguins can drink salt water when thirsty. A gland near their eyes filters excess salt from their bodies through the nose. They can also eat snow as a source of fresh water.
  18. King and emperor penguins are the only known marine birds that reflect UV (ultraviolet) light from their beaks. This feature influences sexual attraction. (Source)
  19. Most penguin species lay two eggs in a clutch. Only king and emperor penguins lay a single egg every season.
  20. In all species except the emperor penguins, male and female penguins share the incubation of eggs. Only the male partner incubates eggs in emperor penguins.
  21. Like a few other birds, homosexual behavior has also been seen in several penguin species. These couples may steal the eggs of regular penguin couples for nesting. (Source)
  22. Five species of penguins are endangered according to the IUCN Red List. The population trend of many penguin species is decreasing. (Source)  
  23. Penguins live in large colonies, known as rookeries. The size of a colony can differ according to the species. The largest colonies can have a million nesting pairs.
  24. Sharks, orcas, sea lions, fur seals, and leopard seals are the main marine predators of penguins. Penguins fall prey to snakes, foxes, and feral dogs on land.
  25. Most of the penguin species are comfortable with humans. But rockhopper penguins and other crested penguins are aggressive. They may chase and even bite humans near them.
  26. Penguins’ feathers have superhydrophobic (extreme non-wetting) properties. These extra ice-repelling feathers are the result of nano-sized pores and extra water-repelling preening oil that penguins secrete through a gland. These features delay the freezing of water droplets on penguins’ feathers. Research is underway to prepare such clothes for human use. (Source)
  27. Penguins replace all their feathers simultaneously while molting, which is different from other seabirds. This process takes 3 to 4 months at different times of the year for adults and juvenile penguins. These birds cannot go to sea after losing their waterproof feathers and become vulnerable to predators. (Source)
  28. European explorers initially sighted penguins in the 15th Century. These were likely African penguins living in South Africa.
  29. Macaroni penguins have the highest population among all the species of penguins. They have approximately 9 million breeding pairs in the Antarctic Peninsula and the Sub Antarctic region. 
  30. Penguins need to hold their breath underwater while diving. The average dive time for most of the species is 6 minutes. However, emperor penguins can dive up to 1,800 feet underwater and hold their breath for 20 minutes. Penguins can dive for a long duration without muscle damage thanks to their ultra-sensitive hemoglobin, special functions of their muscle tissues, and the ability to lower their heart rate. (Source)  
  31. The non-nesting penguin species, emperor penguins and king penguins, recognize their parents and children through a two-voice system. This system is not present in 14 nesting penguins. (Source)
  32. The lifespan of penguins differs according to species. Little blue penguins have the shortest lifespan of up to 6 years. Magellanic penguins can live for 30 years, the highest lifespan for any penguin. Like many other animals, penguins can live longer in captivity compared to their natural habitat.


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