Penguin Facts: Species & Habitat

Penguins are flightless seabirds that live almost exclusively below the equator. Some island-dwellers can be found in warmer climates, but most—including the emperor, adélie, chinstrap, and gentoo penguins—reside in and around icy Antarctica. A thick layer of blubber and tightly-packed, oily feathers are ideal for colder temperatures.

History

Many features of the penguin life cycle vary with body size and geographic distribution; the chronology of breeding may also vary within a species in relation to latitude. The majority of species breed only once each year. Certain species, such as the African penguin (Spheniscus demersus), probably other members of this genus, and the blue penguin, breed twice a year. The king penguin breeds twice in three years. One egg is laid by the emperor and king penguins; all others lay two or occasionally three.

Penguin species

There are 18 species of penguins:

  • King penguin, Aptenodytes patagonicus
  • Emperor penguin, Aptenodytes forsteri
  • Adélie penguin, Pygoscelis adeliae
  • Chinstrap penguin, Pygoscelis antarctica
  • Gentoo penguin, Pygoscelis papua
  • Little penguin, Eudyptula minor
  • Magellanic penguin, Spheniscus magellanicus
  • Humboldt penguin, Spheniscus humboldti
  • Galápagos penguin, Spheniscus mendiculus
  • African penguin, Spheniscus demersus
  • Yellow-eyed penguin, Megadyptes antipodes
  • Fiordland penguin, Eudyptes pachyrynchus
  • Snares penguin, Eudyptes robustus
  • Erect-crested penguin, Eudyptes sclateri
  • Southern rockhopper penguin, Eudyptes chrysocome
  • Northern rockhopper penguin, Eudyptes moseleyi
  • Royal penguin, Eudyptes schlegeli
  • Macaroni penguin, Eudyptes chrysolophus

Where do penguins live?

Considered marine birds, penguins live up to 80 percent of their lives in the ocean, according to the New England Aquarium. All penguins live in the Southern Hemisphere, though it is a common myth that they all live in Antarctica.

Everyone imagines penguins on the ice in Antarctica or taking a break on a passing iceberg, but penguins are also found in South Africa, Chile, Peru, Galápagos Islands, New Zealand, Australia, and a number of sub-Antarctic islands.

Penguins are very nearly exclusive to the southern hemisphere, but Galapagos penguins live right on the equator and so there are a few penguins living in the northern hemisphere.

Conservation

According to the Red List of Threatened Species from the International Union for Conservation of Nature, four penguin species are endangered: northern rockhopper, erect-crested, yellow-eyed, jackass and Galapagos penguins. Most of the other species of penguins are listed as vulnerable or threatened.

5 penguin facts

  • Most penguins have little fear of humans. This is probably because they have no land predators.
  • Larger penguins generally inhabit colder regions, while smaller penguins are generally found in temperate or even tropical climates.
  • Some prehistoric species attained enormous sizes, becoming as tall or as heavy as an adult human.
  • The French explorer Beaulieu, on a voyage in 1620, believed penguins to be a type of feathered fish, due to their adaptations to life underwater.
  • Penguins have been the subject of many books and films including the recently popular “March of the Penguins”, a documentary on the migration patterns of the Emperor Penguin.

Appearance

Penguins have a signature look: black backs and white fronts. The technical term for their coloring is “counter-shading.” It’s an evolutionary advantage that serves as spectacular camouflage because penguin predators have difficulty distinguishing between a white underbelly and reflective water surface. On land, the black back helps penguins blend into the rocky terrain on which many species nest and breed.

They may look sleek and leathery, but penguins are covered in feathers, and their plumage serves two primary purposes. Firstly, it helps with buoyancy and contributes to their agile swimming skills. Secondly, penguin feathers act as insulation, which allows the birds to withstand frigid water and air temperatures.

Several penguin species have a distinct aesthetic flare. Rockhoppers sport fancy crests and feathers on their heads. Chinstrap penguins feature a white band across their jaw areas, and golden feathers adorn the necks and heads of giant penguins. Cape penguins don distinctive pink patches above their eyes, and little blue penguins have blue-tinted feathers instead of jet black.

Reproduction

Emperor penguins have a monogamous mating system. A long courtship period begins, lasting up to 6 weeks, and encompasses about 16% of the total breeding cycle. Mate pairing usually occurs in 82% of males and 56% of females within 24 hours of arrival to breeding grounds. Males and females use vocal calls to find mates. After they bond with a partner, emperor penguins no longer vocalize. This prevents disturbances by other individuals seeking mates. Vocal communication returns once females lay their eggs. Individual females lay one egg per mating season. (Ancel, et al., 2013; Maho, 1977)

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