One of the most gorgeous and aesthetic sights of this world is watching the birds, their movements, their flying in the air, and their little and cute babies. That feeling is indeed sublime, we experience pure joy in those moments which often feel ordinary to someone unwilling to recognize the bounties of beauty that nature bestows upon us. Penguins are such spectacular kind of birds whose sight captures our mind and fill it with radiance.
In this article, we have tried gathering some penguin facts that may surely excite you to see one of these in real.
Who are penguins?
Penguins are aquatic birds who can’t fly in the air, they are flightless birds. They are composed of 17 to 19 recognized species living in the Southern hemisphere. There is only one species, namely the Galápagos penguin, which is found in the northern hemisphere. Tiny blue penguins are majorly found in Australia and New Zealand. The majestic emperor penguins are found in the regions of Antarctica. Other species of King penguins are found in sub- Antarctic territories.
Evolution of Penguins
There are more than 40 fossil species of penguins that dates back to 45-60 million years ago. There is no uniformity among scholars about their exact origin place. Three kinds of different hypotheses posit that they arose in tropical–warm temperate waters, species-diverse cool temperate regions, or in Gondwanaland.
Scholars, having studied the evolutionary cycle of penguins estimate that penguins and albatross shared a common ancestor approximately 71 million years ago. By the end of the final period of the Mesozoic era, the Cretaceous period, penguins evolved as a well distinct species, though it was less in size and shape and more so in the other features. That was the time when they were not entirely flightless and it could be fairly conceded that they could fly.
Anatomy and physiology of penguins
With time, penguins have adapted themselves in a very sophisticated manner to the aquatic way of life. They are so immersed in that way of life that their ancient evolutionary power to fly has become redundant and they feel no remorse over it. They don’t try to get that special ability to fly again. Their wings have evolved as flippers, which could not be used for flying in the air.
It can be argued that the ability to swim in the water penguins looks very similar to the bird’s ability to fly in the air. They have very smooth feathers on their wings which maintains a layer of air through which buoyancy is ensured. The layer of air also helps in the insulation of birds in cold waters. Penguins use their wings and tails to maintain stability and balance on land, holding upright stances.
Most adult penguins are about 40 to 50 cm (15 to 20 inches) tall. Some adults may reach 60 cm. The mean average of adult penguins varies from 3 to 4 kg and males are slightly larger than females, so we get to see sexual dimorphism in action here. Every adult penguin possesses a blackhead, throat, and back. They also have white undersides and red eyes.
The body of penguins is well suited for swimming easily. Its body is tapered at both ends and streamlined. Its tail is short, stiff, and wedge-shaped. Their legs and webbed feet are located far back on the body which provides penguins with their upright posture on the land. The legs of penguins are short and very strong. Penguins walk with short steps or hops, sometimes they use their tails or bill for steep climbs. Emperor penguins and King penguins walk slowly and steadily, they do not hop.
Penguins have different kinds of bill sizes. They capture their prey like fishes and squids with their bills. The bill size is long and thin in species that prey on fishes, while they tend to be shorter and stouter in those species which primarily feed upon the krills.
The color of the iris of penguins differs from species to species. Many penguin species are gifted with brown, reddish-brown, or golden-brown eyes. Rockhopper and macaroni penguins possess red eyes. Fairy (little blue) penguins have a different one; bluish-grey eyes. Yellow-eyed penguins, as suggested by the name itself, have yellow eyes.
Well known penguin species
Gentoo penguins are to be known as the fastest underwater birds in the world. They have the capability of reaching speeds up to 36 km (about 22 miles) per hour while searching for food or escaping from predators. They can also dive to depths of 170–200 meters (about 560–660 feet). In drawing a comparison with other penguin species, gentoo penguins rank third in body size behind emperor and king penguins.
Emperor penguins have the ability of diving to depths of approximately 550 meters (1,800 feet) in search of food. It is famous for its black-white coloration. Orange and yellow color is also to be found on the neck, head, and breast of this species. They are quite famous for their deepest dive into the seas
The second largest of the penguin species is the King Penguin. Their upright posture along with vivid colorful bodies characterizes them. A fully developed body of king penguins may reach 85–95 cm (33–37 inches) in length and weigh 14–17 kg (about 31–37 pounds), with males weighing slightly more than female penguins.
Other Types Of Penguins
According to some rough estimates, one out of 50,000 penguins is born with brown rather than black plumage. These are called isabelline penguins. They have a shorter tenure of life because they are not well-camouflaged against predators.
The smallest species whose name is the little blue penguin is about 14 inches(35 cm) tall; the largest species whose name is the emperor penguin is almost 4 feet (120 cm) tall. There’s a staggering difference of 85 cm between them both.
Crested penguins are species found only in New Zealand. They are estimated to be 25,000 pairs today.
The replacement of new feathers with the old baby ones in penguins is termed a catastrophic molt.
Every year on 20 January, penguin awareness day is celebrated to raise awareness about the dwindling numbers of various penguin species.
Habitat of these flightless birds
Even though almost all penguins are found in the Southern hemisphere, they are not only found in cold climates like that of Antarctica. The fact is that there are very few species living that far South. There are several species of penguins that live in temperate climate zone. Even though the climatic conditions of Antarctica and the Arctic are similar to each other, no penguins are living in the Arctic.
A vast majority of penguins live in regions such as Antarctica, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Chile, Angola, Argentina, and Namibia. Adelie penguins, for example, solely live in the Antarctica region. These penguins have widely spread species of penguins. Galapagos penguins live in the Galapagos Islands.
Except for the yellow-eyed and Fiordland species, all species of penguins breed in large colonies. These large colonies range from a size of 100 pairs for Gentoo penguins to a size of several thousand in the case of King, Macaroni, and chinstrap penguins.
Penguins tend to make monogamous pairs for a breeding season. The rate of the same couple mating again together varies from species to species. The breeding season of penguins differs species after species.
Most species of penguins lay two eggs in a clutch except for the two largest species: the emperor and the king.
Males and females both share the incubation duties, forming a cohesive bond with each other. There are only one species, which is of the emperor penguins, where only males share incubation duties. The less experienced penguins often due to their lack of expediency indulge in faulty behavior, because of which the abandonment and breaking of eggs become the pertinent possibility.
The male and female of a pair of penguins alternate incubation duties. The one left on the nest fast while its partner is foraging at sea. Nest attendance patterns during the incubation period reflect the way time is distributed between the conflicting demands of incubation and foraging.
The majority of penguins species breed only once every year. Certain species, such as the African penguin and the blue penguin, breed twice a year. The king penguin breeds twice in three years. Most penguins prefer to breed in either spring or summer. Some of the Gentoo penguins breed in the winter season too.
The period of growth of the young bird from hatching to complete development vastly differs from two months in the smallest species of blue penguins to 12 to 14 months in the king penguin.
King penguins have a 14 to 18 months cycle and the timing of an individual pair purely depends on the last attempt, whether it was a success or a failure. The breeding of emperor penguins begins in summer, planned in such a way that the development of the baby penguin would correspond with midsummer when the rates of survival of the baby are the greatest. The execution of this master strategy shows us how these organisms have adapted themselves with ease to the environment, howsoever hostile it may have been. Emperor penguins huddle with each other to protect themselves from the cold climate. Chinstrap penguins are one of the most abundant penguins around.
Penguins use a lot of vocal and visual displays whenever they arrive or depart from the colony. They even use courtship calls in the time of pairing and in some cases in the later phase of breeding. They resemble us, humans, in this respect. Isn’t it just delightful that despite being a bird, they do such wonderful activities without learning from anywhere?
The primary food of smaller southern penguins is krill. Squid, smaller fishes, and cuttlefish are some other varieties of food consumed by them. For African penguins, fish is their primary diet, and they consume it voraciously. The total amount of food that is subsumed by the penguins in one day exceeds several tons. They also drink seawater in a good quantity.
Many penguins travel hundreds of miles for hunting and prey on their food. The emperor penguins travel 300-500 miles for hunting for food, while Galapagos penguins rarely travel more than a mile for their food. So, there is a huge variation between different kinds of species of penguins. Many species of penguins prefer to hunt in groups, while some prefer to hunt alone. Yellow-eyed penguins, for example, hunt in solitary.
The hunting tactics of penguins differ species after species. Their superb swimming ability and underwater eye strength help them in catching their prey conveniently. When penguins catch their prey, they simply swallow it wholesome. Many penguins adapt their food choices according to the availability of kind of food. Land-based predators often attack penguins, so they show caution every time on land.
The exact amount of food consumed by different species of penguins depends on their range, bill shape, size, and foraging behavior. As penguins are carnivores with a piscivores diet,i.e feeding on aquatic animals, they need to eat healthy and fresh food from clean seas.
Causes of death
The average life expectancy of a penguin is 15 to 20 years. Winter starvation, the death of infant babies within the first year of life, and predators like seals, sharks, and killer whales are among the primary reasons for their death.
Crested penguins live from 10 to 20 years. Galapagos penguins live from 15 to 20 years. Gentoo penguins maximum live up to 13 years. Male emperor penguins have a life span of 20 years, sometimes they live up to even 50 years. Adelie penguins live from 10 to 20 years. Fairy penguins live up to 6 years. Fiordland penguins live between 10 to 20 years.
Seas are the major source of food for penguins which have been threatened in recent decades because of human activities. The garbage disposal activities and killing of fish for their food, by humans have led them to migrate to other places often. Humans are still unaware of the consequences that their harmful activities have unleashed upon the birds and animals. They are sitting while species after species of plenty of birds and animals are becoming extinct or going to become extinct shortly if they are not stopped by us.
The problem of global warming is an issue that the whole world is facing today. Not just birds and animals we are also the victims of global warming. The disturbance in the ecosystem would naturally bring disaster to every species in the food chain. There are many species of penguins who are fighting off their extinction or are extremely vulnerable. At present,18 species of penguins are legally protected from being hunted and their eggs collected. The Antarctica treaty signed by many countries makes it illegal to threaten penguins with any kind of harm.
As responsible human beings, we must diligently protect the environment and natural habitats of penguins. Galapagos penguins today are on the brink of extinction. Similarly, chinstrap penguins are also being lost due to climate change. Crested penguins have also declined over the last three decades. Adelie penguins have also declined significantly in recent years.
We should preserve the species of penguins by discharging the duty of a responsible human.