Penguins are amazing birds! They are not like any bird you’ve seen in the yard or in the park. They have adapted to their cold environment in a way that makes them special. Thanks to their adorable appearance they became the subject of many films from documentaries to cartoons such as “Happy feet”, “Madagascar”, or “Mr. Popper’s penguins”.
The penguin is part of the Spheniscidae family. Despite anatomical, behavioral, and genetic evidence, the evolution of penguins remains unsolved. Penguins are thought to have a connection to the pelican and other birds. At least 18 penguin species are represented by fossils from the southern hemisphere dating back to the Eocene era, 55.8–33.9 million years ago.
The penguin lives in the southern hemisphere, living in the oceans and on the coasts. Penguins in Antarctica and under Antarctica are oceanic and mate on the ocean coast or ice floes.
Penguins are distinguished by their posture and rigid wings that cannot be lifted on the side of the body. Penguins are medium-sized birds, weighing between 1 and 40 kilograms, with a height of 40-115 centimeters and a thick layer of fat under the skin. The plumage of the mature penguin is black-blue or gray on the dorsal side and white on the ventral side. Penguin babies have a similar appearance to the big ones, and females do not differ in appearance from males. The feathers are small and continuously arranged, and the penguin’s beak is long and sometimes flattened to the side. It is a bird that does not fly, having a skeleton with very little air and the wings have turned into flippers, being vascularized, with developed pectoral muscles, but biceps are absent, this being a characteristic of penguins. The legs are short, with palm fingers. The body has glands through which it eliminates oil.
The penguin swims well, using its flippers. It seeks its prey underwater, having as food sources anchovies, cuttlefish, squid, and shrimp.
Penguins are considered monogamous and often nest in the same place with the same partner from the year before. In some species, the pairs stay together for 13 years. Courtship is varied and complex and may include strong sounds. Most penguins mate in large colonies, reaching up to 5 million pairs. Those living in Antarctica mate in spring and summer, while penguins living in warmer areas have a continuous mating period. Both males and females share the task of hatching eggs. The offspring come out at the same time or in turn after an incubation period of 30-64 days, depending on the species. The penguin reaches maturity at 2-5 years old, and its life expectancy is 20 years.
The penguin is a very sociable bird and many species live in colonies, swimming together to feed themselves. Their vocalization is strong, made of short calls. In numerous colonies, penguins identify themselves according to the sound they emit.
Among the penguins’ predators are humans, the leopard seal, the killer whale, and the shark.
The penguin has been hunted since ancient times for its layer of fat that is thought to be beneficial to the skin. At the end of the last century, about 150.000 emperor penguins were hunted each year for 20 years on the island of Macquarie, located south of New Zealand. Locals on the islands near the coast of Peru and Chile collect penguin eggs and their dry excrement for use.
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There are currently 12 endangered penguin species. Major hazards include hybridization, destruction of the mating environment, human disturbance, egg collection, predation because of the introduction of some mammals, commercial fishing, and oil spills.
Most penguin species are monogamous. Choosing their partners for life is one of those curiosities about penguins that makes us love them even more.
However, the family life of penguins is not necessarily as idyllic as it seems. Researchers who have observed them for long periods of time have noted that while they seem to choose a mate with whom they will mate during their lifetime, a sufficiently large percentage of individuals engage in same-gender acts, while females steal each other’s cubs.
Known as the Emperor Penguin or the Royal Penguin, the species is distinguished by both its elegant, spectacular appearance and distinctive behavioral characteristics. In this species, the eggs are hatched by males, which keep them on their legs, under a special skin fold, heated. During this time, the males are gathered in large colonies, and fascinatingly, they do not eat anything, while the females are gone to feed.
Once the eggs hatch and the baby penguins come out, the females also return from the ocean ready to take care of them.
Penguins have very little material at their disposal to build their nests, as in Antarctica few plants grow. The emperor penguins, for example, don’t make nests at all. They lay the egg directly on the ground or on the ice. Other penguins in Antarctica make their nest by scratching a dent in the ground, which they fill with pebbles.
On the list of curiosities about penguins, it is worth mentioning that these birds have knees. The skeleton of their legs is structurally similar to that of our legs: femur, kneecap, tibia, and fibula. Although they seem very small and short, their legs are not quite like that, as most of them are hidden in feathers.
If penguins look clumsy when walking, in the water, they are very graceful. They almost fly through the water and can stay underwater for up to 18 minutes.
Their colonies are dirty and noisy places. Hundreds of screaming penguins gather here during mating. Despite the crowds, each penguin knows its mate or cub, calling it and recognizing its cry.
The satellite imagery showed that the number of Emperor penguins is almost double compared to what researchers thought. They can be seen from space, like brown spots on snow and Arctic ice, given the tendency to live in very large colonies.
Are we talking about penguins? Well, could you imagine that these little birds, dressed in their elegant tuxedo, can be bullies?
The Adelie penguin is the smallest species of penguin living in Antarctica. Cute, and a little clumsy, they create waves of sympathy from the public but don’t be fooled. These birds are aggressive and ruthless. There have been recorded cases of attacking potential predators, other large birds, or even seals. In fact, some of the individuals in the colonies even attacked visitors who got too close to the females and the cubs.