Penguin (animal) - Information, habitat, and characteristics

Penguin (animal) - Information, habitat, and characteristics
Posted on 09-02-2022


We explain everything about penguins, where they live, what they eat, and other characteristics. Also, how long do they live and how do they reproduce.


Several of the penguin species are at some risk of extinction.

What are penguins?

We call penguins the different species of birds belonging to the Spheniscidae family, the only birds on the planet that instead of flying, use their wings to dive into the sea and capture their food. They are species almost exclusive to the southern hemisphere of the planet.

This name comes from the Welsh pen (“head”) and Gwyn (“white”), a term given in Great Britain to similar but biologically distant species. However, the first Europeans to observe a penguin were not the British, but rather the crew members of the first expedition of the Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama (ca. 1460-1542), who nicknamed them “child birds” or “silly birds” due to their peculiar way of walking.

Currently around 18 living species of penguins are known, grouped into six different genera, all descendants of gigantic prehistoric seabirds (plolotperids) that more than 60 million years ago adapted their bodies to capture submerged food on the coasts of New Zealand. It is an adaptation that distinguishes penguins from any other species of seabird that exists.

Penguins are social animals that live in numerous colonies, and whose greatest vital danger is represented by the human hand. In fact, climate change and the melting of the poles is one of the main risks that the species must face, along with maritime pollution from chemicals and plastics. Several of today's penguin species are at some risk of extinction.


penguin characteristics


Penguins are characterized by their bodies adapted for swimming.

Penguins are characterized, broadly speaking, by the following:

  • Like all birds, they are bipedal, but they lack flight. Their wings, adapted for swimming, have solid, compressed bones with rigid joints, and their legs are set further back than usual, to allow them to stand up in the dry, and also act as rudders underwater. The general shape of their body is hydrodynamic, although they have a very variable size.
  • Penguins are excellent swimmers, capable of reaching speeds of up to 60 kmph and holding their breath for up to 18 minutes, in some species. Most of their time is spent submerged, but they do emerge to breed and spawn.
  • The plumage of penguins consists of three different layers, with black and white colors and other features that vary depending on the species, but they also have a thick layer of fat under the skin to insulate body heat from the icy water and air of Antarctica.
  • They communicate by squawking, with such a level of specificity that they can recognize each other in noisy, crowded colonies.
  • They are social animals, forming large colonies and famous for their monogamy. In various cultures, they occupy a place of sympathy, considered in the West as exotic animals.

Where do penguins live?

Penguins are almost exclusive inhabitants of the southern hemisphere of the planet, except for the species adapted to equatorial life in the Galapagos Islands (Ecuador).

The species located on the Antarctic continent represent 80% of the region's biomass, although during mating times they can migrate to much warmer latitudes. Penguin colonies currently exist on the coasts of New Zealand, Antarctica, Argentina, Chile, Peru, South Africa, the southern region of Australia, and the subantarctic islands.

What did the penguins eat?


Penguins hunt their prey during their dives.

The penguins' diet consists mainly of fish and cephalopods that they hunt during their dives, except for some species adapted to the ingestion of zooplankton and very small crustaceans. Penguins have a specialized gland, shared with most marine species, that allows them to eliminate excess salt by ingesting seawater, so they do not need to ingest fresh water.

How do penguins reproduce?


Penguin chicks grow and become independent quickly.

Penguins, like all birds, reproduce sexually and through oviparous mechanisms, that is, by laying previously fertilized eggs inside the female. Although most species do not show marked sexual dimorphism (difference between males and females), they do show complex courtship dynamics and nest building, either in underground galleries or on the surface.

The emperor penguin, for example, does not create nests but rather retains the egg against its body for the time necessary for it to incubate, a period that depending on the species can take between 32 and 62 days.

Generally, each pair of penguins lays only one egg at a time, from which a single hatchling emerges. The chicks grow rapidly, and after two or three weeks after the first moult, they become completely independent.

How long do penguins live?

The average lifespan of a penguin varies depending on the species, but in general, it is between 10 and 20 years and can last a little longer in ideal captive conditions.

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