Sure, penguins are adorable and we all wish that we could live with one, two, or maybe 500 penguins. But these mammals are actually very clever and there’s more to them than meets the eye.
Penguins come in a variety of shapes, species, and size. Did you know that penguins exist outside of the Southern Hemisphere (and no, we don’t just mean the penguins you see in the zoo)?
Check out these 20 penguin facts and see which ones you knew and which ones you didn’t!
1. The smallest penguin is 10 inches tall
You might think that most penguins are little because the cute ones are so small, but there are actually some very big penguins and then some very tiny ones.
The smallest penguin is the blue penguin and they’re only about 10 inches tall!
They’re also known as little penguins are their native to Australia, New Zealand, and Tasmania.
2. There are at least 17 species of penguin
It is confirmed that there are 17 species of penguin, but scientists do estimate that there might be between 17 and 19, actually.
Penguins exist from Africa to Australia to Antartica. You would find the rockhopper and macaroni penguins in the sub-Antarctic region and Antarctic Peninsula.
One of the most common species of penguin is the emperor penguin, which is the tallest and heaviest of all living penguin species and is endemic to Antarctica.
3. Only one type of penguin lives outside of the Southern Hemisphere
Penguins don’t all just live in Antartica! The African penguin lives in – you guessed it, Africa! Though, technically, they are in the Southwestern part of the continent, which means they are in the southern hemisphere.
So, the penguins that do not live south are actually the Galápagos penguins! Since the Galápagos Islands straddle the equator, some penguins live in the northern hemisphere, while some live in the southern.
4. Penguins date back at least 61 million years
Extinction? What extinction? Penguins have been around for quite a while now.
Fossils were found of penguins that date back 61 million years. As if that isn’t crazy enough, the fossils were human-sized! That is one giant penguin.
5. They actually do sing and dance
So, Happy Feet is basically real life!
Penguins don’t dance and sing quite as fancy as the ones the movie, but they do actually know how to bring the rhythm.
Male Adélie penguins do dance-like movements with their heads and flippers to attract their mate.
6. There’s a reason they jump in the air before swimming
It isn’t just to look cool, this is a strategic move.
Penguins tend to jump in the air to swim faster. Some species of penguin can swim up to 22 miles per hour!
Other reasons penguins jump? To escape predators! Some penguins, like the pint-sized Adélie penguin, can leap up to nine feet in the air.
7. Explorers once thought they were geese
Clearly, these explorers hadn’t seen many geese in their life, but there really aren’t many similarities between the two creatures.
Antonio Pigafetta, who was aboard Ferdinand Magellan’s first circumnavigation of the globe in 1520 called penguins “strange geese” when documenting the sighting near what was probably Punta Tombo in Argentina.
8. Penguin couples have distinct calls
You might think that you and your S.O. have a cute way of communicating, but can you top a penguin mating call?
Penguins can live in huge colonies, so couples and their chicks need specific calls to locate each other in the group.
9. Female penguins look for chubby partners
Penguins do not discriminate based on weight – or maybe more specifically, they do not discriminate against penguins who are heavier.
Penguins have some intense fasting in their diets, so female penguins look for mates with a little more meat on their bones. The reason? They need men who can go a few weeks without eating while they are off hunting.
10. One species of penguin was named for its fashion sense
Don’t totally freak out but macaroni penguins names basically come from a famous children’s song… “Stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni.”
In the mid 18th century, a young man who wore flashy feathers in his hat was called a “Macaroni”.
English explorers who saw penguins with the yellow-crested feathers thought that they looked just like the flashy young man.
11. There was once a penguin that stood at 6.5 feet tall
You might think that all penguins are cute and cuddly, but that is not the case. Emperor penguins weigh around 50 pounds and are over 4 feet tall.
That isn’t even close to the biggest penguin! The penguin from 61 million years ago was the biggest penguin to exist.
12. The deepest dive a penguin has ever done was 6,000 feet
Typically, penguins dive about 30 to 60 feet when they go underwater. Emperor penguins, however, are the diving champs and
One ambitious penguin blew that number out of the water and made the record. This particular penguin regular dove about 1,500, then had an incredible dive of 6,000 feet.
13. Males incubate the eggs while females go hunt
When it comes to penguins, it isn’t just up to the females to care for the babies.
For emperor penguins, the males incubate the eggs while the females go off to hunt for food. The larger the egg, the longer the penguins have to incubate for.
14. Penguins don’t have ears or teeth
You might have realized that penguins didn’t have teeth (or at least teeth like we do) but they also do not have ears!
Penguins have barbs on the roof of their mouths and on their tongue to mush up their food before consumption.
Even though penguins don’t have ears, they have excellent hearing. You can’t see it, but they actually have ear holes that are covered by little flaps.
15. Penguins like people
You might not know this, but penguins aren’t afraid of people! Unless you’ve seen a penguin in the wild, you probably wouldn’t have known that.
Scientists believe that penguins are unbothered by human presence as they tend to have had very limited predators on land. So, there is no ingrained fear for them when being approached on load.
16. The world’s oldest penguin is over 40 years old
Penguins don’t actually have a very long lifespan. Surprisingly, the little penguin actually only lives for about six years.
Emperor penguins have a longer lifespan of about 20 years and in the wild, King penguins can live 26 years.
But one penguin, at Birdland park in England, is now 40 years old! Missy the penguin is beloved by all and is the oldest living in captivity penguin currently.
17. They love to slide on their belly
You know how we live to sled in the snow? Well, penguins do too and they can do it on their bellies!
It is call tobogganing and penguins do it a lot. They lay flat on their bellies on the snow or ice and use their flippers to propel themselves forward.
Penguins really aren’t doing this for fun though, it is actually a much faster method of travel for penguins than walking.
18. Penguins need more than a layer of blubber to survive
Many animals have layers of blubber to keep warm during the cold months, but penguins need more than that. Blubber helps keep them warm in the water.
But above ground, penguins have a layer of feathers with a fine wooly down. The feathers also do a great job of shedding water when they emerge from the water.
19. Penguins like to keep warm, but they also need to keep cold
Obviously, penguins are often found in colder regions and this means they need to stay warm.
Interestingly enough, one of the ways they keep warm is by keeping cool. Emperor penguins keep warm by keeping their outer plumage or feathers at a lower temperature than the air around them. By doing this, they are able to gain back heat through thermal convection.
20. They lose their feathers all at once, instead of over time
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A catastrophic molt is what happens when penguins lose their feathers all at once.
It sounds a little more dramatic than it actually is. It is truly a sight to see.