Top 100 Penguin Facts

  • The emperor penguin is the only animal that inhabits the open ice of Antarctica throughout winter, when wind chills can reach -76°F.
  • In Antarctica, the leopard seal is the main predator of penguins. In winter, when other food is scarce, they eat around 5 penguins a day.
  • Emperor penguins sometimes use their long, pointed beaks as ice picks to pull themselves out of slushy water onto sea ice.
  • Rockhopper penguins nest along some of the roughest coastlines in the world and have a reputation for taking a beating and never giving up.
  • Rockhopper penguins nest on cliffs 100 yards or more above the sea. As they hop their way up, they sometimes slip and fall on the wet rocks.
  • Humboldt penguins nest in one of the driest places on Earth – the coastal deserts of Peru.
  • Humboldt penguins are named after the Humboldt Current, which brings ice cold water and plenty of fish to the coasts of South America.
  • Emperor penguins negotiate ice walls, crevasses and other obstacles on their annual march to their breeding grounds in Antarctica.
  • Count down the Top 100 Penguin Facts. You'll be amazed at what you don't know about penguins!
  • Rockhopper penguins use their claws like crampons and their beak like a climbing axe to reach their nesting sites high atop rocky cliffs.
  • Rockhopper penguins have thick blubber that acts like a shock absorber if they slip and fall while scaling the rocky cliffs where they nest.
  • Emperor penguins huddle together to stay warm during blizzards. A lone penguin may not make it through the night.
  • Humboldt penguin colonies are built on centuries upon centuries of penguin poop. They burrow into the guano to build their nests.
  • Some penguins, like rockhoppers and Humboldts, mate for life. Others, including emperor penguins, pair up for only a single breeding season.
  • Penguins that mate for life may sing or perform “ecstatic displays” when they reunite at the start of the breeding season.
  • Each mating season, female emperor penguins do the choosing. The males stand in a line and display, keeping their beaks raised high.
  • Count down the Top 100 Penguin Facts. You'll be amazed at what you don't know about penguins!
  • Once a female emperor penguin has chosen her mate, the pair will gracefully mirror one another’s movements to secure their bond.
  • Female emperor penguins sometimes fight over a desired male, shoving, pecking and even slapping at one another with their flippers.
  • Once emperor penguins partner up for the breeding season, the pair will waddle around the colony together to establish that they’re a couple.
  • When an emperor penguin lays her egg, she pushes it forward onto her feet with a flip of her tail, never letting it touch the cold sea ice.
  • The survival of an emperor penguin’s egg depends on the strength and endurance of the father, who guards it during the icy depths of winter.
  • Some penguins lay 2 eggs as an insurance policy against predators. Others, like emperor penguins, focus all of their energy on a single egg.
  • Some penguins have to defend their eggs and chicks against vultures, which can be twice the size of a penguin.
  • A male emperor penguin will tenderly stroke the egg to encourage his partner to pass it to him and leave for her winter feeding grounds.
  • Female emperor penguins spend the harsh Antarctic winter at sea, returning to the colony in spring with food for her newborn chick.
  • Emperor penguins cradle their egg on their feet. It the egg touches the sea ice for more than a few moments, it will freeze.
  • Once an emperor penguin chick has hatched, its calls encourage other chicks in the colony to peck their way out of their shells.
  • In an emperor penguin colony, all of the eggs hatch at almost the exact same time – this can be more than 2,000 eggs in a single night.
  • An emperor penguin chick’s very first meal is a fatty protein paste that the father produces from glands in his throat.
  • Humboldt penguins nest in penguin poop. If they don’t bathe often, the filth of their nesting sites bakes into their feathers, ruining them.
  • Humboldt penguins have a unique defense against predators: poop. If a gull pokes its head in a Humboldt nest, it may get an eyeful!
  • Toward the end of winter, female emperor penguins must walk 80 miles or more over the sea ice to return to their hungry chicks.
  • A male emperor penguin becomes so attached to his egg that he has trouble surrendering it to the female in spring, even though he’s starving.
  • Unique antibiotics in an emperor penguin’s stomach preserve fish for up to 3 months, allowing the mom to give her chick its first solid meal.
  • In spring, snow thaws and refreezes in Antarctica, creating “skating rinks” that emperor penguin chicks use to practice walking on ice.
  • Rockhopper penguin colonies have “sitters” that watch the chicks, corralling them together while their parents are off hunting at sea.
  • To protect their chicks, rockhopper penguins will form mobs to fight off much larger predators, such as vultures and giant petrels.
  • In Peru, vampire bats feed on Humboldt penguins at night. The bats can spread rabies throughout the colony and severely weaken the chicks.
  • Rockhopper chicks start hopping at an early age. This strengthens their leg muscles and eventually helps them shake off their baby coats.
  • A penguin’s fluffy baby coat makes it bob like a cork in the water. It must wait for its adult feathers to grow in before going swimming.
  • There are 17 penguin species, including little-known types like Macquarie Island’s royal penguin with its odd yellow mop of head feathers.
  • Penguin predators have difficulty distinguishing a penguin’s white belly from the reflective surface of the water.
  • A penguin’s black-and-white coat is a form of camouflage called “countershading.”
  • A penguin’s body is hydrodynamic, or shaped for maximum efficiency in the water. It’s tapered at both ends, like a torpedo, to reduce drag.
  • Antarctica’s emperor penguin is the world’s largest penguin. It has an average height of 45 inches and weighs approximately 90 pounds.
  • New Zealand’s fairy penguin is the world’s smallest. It stands 10 inches high and weighs 2.5 pounds – 36 times less than an emperor penguin.
  • All 17 species of penguin eat only seafood – mainly krill, squid and various species of fish.
  • Penguins use their long, pointy beaks to catch their often slippery prey and have a textured tongue for holding on while swallowing.
  • Penguins spend as much as 75% of their lives at sea, but all penguins mate, nest and give birth on land or sea ice.
  • The Galapagos penguin lives at the equator and occasionally crosses to the northern hemisphere. All other penguins live in the South.
  • 13 of the 17 recognized species of penguin are considered threatened or endangered. Some are even on the brink of extinction.
  • The world’s most endangered penguins are the African, northern rockhopper, yellow-eyed, Galapagos and erect-crested penguins.
  • Habitat loss due to human encroachment, climate change, pollution and predation by cats and dogs are the biggest threats to penguins.
  • In a bit of parenting role reversal, emperor penguin males incubate the egg and provide the chick its first meal (from glands in his throat).
  • Penguins have waterproof feathers that help keep them insulated. They spend a lot of time grooming to keep their coats in perfect shape.
  • Magellanic penguins are named after the explorer Ferdinand Magellan, who first spotted them in 1520 on his voyage around the world.
  • Most male and female penguins look identical. In mating season, you can spot the female by the muddy footprints left on her back by the male.
  • The most populous penguin species is the macaroni penguin, which has an estimated 11,654,000 breeding pairs.
  • There are only an estimated 6,000 to 15,000 Galapagos penguins remaining, making them the world’s rarest penguin species.
  • You can make a general guess about where a penguin lives based on its body size: the larger the penguin, the colder its environment.
  • Count down the Top 100 Penguin Facts. You'll be amazed at what you don't know about penguins!
  • During breeding season, some penguin species form large groups called “rookeries” that may include several thousand penguins.
  • Each individual penguin has a distinct call. This allows them to find their own unique mate and chick even in very large groups.
  • All penguin species lay two eggs (the second as insurance against predators) except for king and emperor penguins, which lay one.
  • Penguins typically live for 15 to 20 years in the wild, depending on the species.
  • Some extinct penguin species were as tall or as heavy as an adult human.
  • The word “penguin” first appeared in the 16th century as a synonym for great auk, a similar-looking bird common to the northern hemisphere.
  • The earliest known penguins lived 66 million years ago, when dinosaurs still roamed the earth. It’s likely they weren’t entirely flightless.
  • The earliest known penguin species, Waimanu manneringi, looked like a loon. It lived in Antarctica and southern New Zealand.
  • The tallest penguin ever reached nearly 6 feet and weighed 200 lbs. Called Nordenskjoeld's giant penguin, it lived 45-37 million years ago.
  • Count down the Top 100 Penguin Facts. You'll be amazed at what you don't know about penguins!
  • Penguins preserve a layer of air in their smooth plumage to ensure buoyancy and to help insulate their body in cold water.
  • On land, penguins use their tails and wings to maintain balance when standing upright.
  • Average penguin diving speeds range from 3.7 to 7.5 mph, but when startled they may reach up to 17 or even 20 mph.
  • Small penguins generally find their food near the surface. Large penguins, like the king and emperor, dive deep if needed to find food.
  • The deepest recorded penguin dive was an emperor penguin that reached a depth of 1,870 feet (over 1/3 of a mile). The dive lasted 22 minutes.
  • When penguins slide on their bellies across the snow, it’s called “tobogganing.” This allows them to conserve energy while moving quickly.
  • On land, penguins jump with both of their feet close together in order to move quickly or cross steep or rocky terrain.
  • Penguins have excellent underwater eyesight, which allows them to locate prey easily and avoid predators.
  • The emperor penguin’s large surface area to mass ratio helps prevent excessive heat loss.
  • Emperor penguins can control blood flow to their feet and flippers to prevent their blood supply from getting too cold.
  • In winter, male emperor penguins huddle together for warmth, rotating positions so that everyone gets a turn in the center of the heat pack.
  • Penguins can drink salt water. They have specialized nasal glands that filter excess salt from their bloodstream, preventing hypertension.
  • Homosexual behavior was first observed in penguins in 1911. At the time, it was described as “depraved” and the report was suppressed.
  • Count down the Top 100 Penguin Facts. You'll be amazed at what you don't know about penguins!
  • Chinstrap, macaroni and king penguins have the largest breeding colonies, numbering up to several hundred thousand breeding pairs.
  • Yellow-eyed, Fiordland and Gentoo penguins tend to breed in relatively small colonies with as few as 100 breeding pairs per colony.
  • Penguin eggs are the smallest of any bird relative to the size of the parent. An emperor penguin’s egg is only 2.3% of its adult body weight.
  • Count down the Top 100 Penguin Facts. You'll be amazed at what you don't know about penguins!
  • Penguins lay their eggs in adverse conditions, so the shells tend to be very thick – roughly 10 to 16% the total weight of the egg.
  • When a penguin mom loses her chick, she may attempt to steal another. Other penguin moms often band together to help prevent her thievery.
  • In some penguin species, the chicks assemble in large groups called “crèches” and are watched over by penguin babysitters.
  • The largest penguin colony in the world is a chinstrap penguin colony in the South Sandwich Islands that numbers roughly 2 million penguins.
  • Adelie penguins can accelerate from 0 to 16 mph in less than a second, allowing them to avoid leopard seals when entering the water.
  • Galapagos penguins – which live along the equator – hold their flippers out to keep cool. This also helps protect their feet against sunburn.
  • Macaroni penguins select their mates by the intensity of their yellow head feathers, red eyes and red beak, which can indicate health.
  • Gentoo penguin chicks make a special sound when pecking at their parent’s beak to get them to open up and regurgitate food.
  • There are three main types of penguin calls: a contact call (for finding one another), a display call (used in mating) and a threat call.
  • Emperor penguins have the widest range of vocalizations among penguins, including a trumpet, a high-pitched bray and a loud “ah” sound.
  • An “ecstatic penguin display" is a courtship display where a male bird pumps his chest, lifts his beak, holds out his flippers and brays.
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