Penguins are flightless birds living in
the Antarctic region. Did you know that millions of years
could fly? Millions of years ago, many scientists believe Antarctica and
Africa were connected. When the continents split apart, the
environment changed dramatically, and the weather became much more
harsh and cold. The
penguins adapted to their new environment in several ways. This
explains why the penguins live on different continents. They
can only be found on Antarctica, the South American coast,
South Africa, and a sixth species has been found in New Zealand and
mystery of nature is how the penguins always go to the exact same
spot as where they were born to breed and have their own young. Some penguins travel many miles to do this. They begin to do
this same thing every year once they are two years old.
scientists learn more about how penguins know where to go and why, they
may begin to understand better how penguins communicate. One thing that
is known is that penguins stay together in groups. By doing this,
they stay safer, keep warmer, protect their young, and breed. Some
penguin adults may breed together over many seasons or their entire
cold, penguins gather in large, close groups called huddles. There
may be hundreds or even thousands of male penguins in a huddle. They
do this during mating season while the females are out getting food.
Temperatures can get up to 77 degrees Fahrenheit in a huddle, even in the
bitter Antarctic cold. Steam and heat will spill out when the
huddles break up.
the most interesting ways that communication occurs is when chicks are old
enough to be left behind while the parents go out and get food. Each
penguin makes a unique sound that no other penguin has. The parents
will make that sound, and the chicks will answer back when the
parents return with food. This is how the chick finds the parent and
gets fed. Remember, it is not as easy as it sounds, there may be
60,000 penguins in a single colony!
amazing way that penguins communicate is called the mating display
or dance. Mother and father penguins have not seen each other since
the last mating season which was many months and many miles ago. After the
long travel to the breeding or mating area, the adult penguins will
locate one another and perform a ritual kind of dance to find each
other’s mate. It appears that they do this display to prove that
they have found the right mate.
and emperor penguins will also do another kind of dance when the
mother gives the egg to the father penguin to incubate and hatch
while the mother goes and gets food. It is interesting that this
display looks a lot like the mating dance. Perhaps the mating
display is a practice for this method. The only goal for this dance
is to get the egg from the mother’s feet to the father’s feet
without the egg touching the ground. If it does, the chick will
probably freeze and die right in the egg. If the egg gets to the
right place, the father will cover it with his belly and keep it off
the ice with his feet in order to keep it warm.
Penguins come in 17
different kinds or species. Fairy, or little penguins, are the smallest.
They are only about a foot tall and weigh about three pounds. This is
about the same weight as a tiny Chihuahua dog! Emperor penguins are the
largest of all. You may have seen this penguin in the movie, “March of
the Penguins.” They may be up to 4 feet tall, and weigh 100 pounds!
This is as big as some 10 year old children!
While they may come in
many sizes, penguins share most other physical characteristics. For
example, when penguins adapted to their new environment, they started
swimming. Then their wings turned more flipper-like. They also grew a
waterproof coat of feathers. To keep warm, they have a layer of blubber.
Some penguins in very cold areas have extra downy feathers for warmth.
Most are black or gray and white, and their beaks may be red, yellow or
Penguins are known as
excellent swimmers. At an average speed of 8 miles per hour, they can
swim for many hours. However, sometimes they will speed up to over 20
miles per hour for short sprints. They are also great divers! No other
bird can dive as deep below water as a penguin. 900 feet below
water surface level is not unusual. Penguins come out of the water about
every minute for air, but may hold their breath for up to 20 minutes
during deep dives.
Penguins may look kind of funny
because of the way they waddle, but they can actually move about as fast
as most humans walk. They can even climb steep slopes. Getting from one rock
to another can be done by hopping. Another funny looking way of traveling
is sliding on their bellies through the ice and snow. This is called
tobogganing. It is probably the fastest (and maybe
easiest) method of all!
Some penguins live in dark, cold Antarctica. There
are blizzards all the time. But,
penguins like it there because of the swimming! They love it even though it is icy water. The blubber is what
keeps them warm.
Surprisingly, not all penguin
species live in cold climates! There are three species that live
in the tropics. For example, the Galapagos penguin lives in the
Galapagos Islands and will sometimes cross the equator while feeding.
We already talked about how the chicks get
fed by the parents. But what, exactly do they like to eat? Shrimp and
crabs are one of the penguins' favorite foods. They will also eat
different kinds of fish and also enjoy squid. They eat crustaceans such
as krill. Penguins gather food by
diving in the ocean. Getting food may be dangerous for the penguins,
however, because predators, such as leopard seals will happily have a
penguin for lunch!
it is time to have chicks, penguins will leave the ice and water for
land. Most do not head toward land until it is time to raise young
penguins. They will go in large groups. These groups are called
Nests are made by digging holes or burrows in rocks and
bushes. The nests are to keep the eggs warm so they can hatch and not
freeze. Keeping the eggs warm to hatch is called incubation. Most
penguins build nests for incubation. However, the king and emperor
penguins do not. These penguins keep the eggs warm by holding them under
their bellies while keeping the eggs on their feet, off the cold ice.
The emperor penguin males may keep these eggs incubating for up to 65
Penguins will also keep
tiny chicks under their bellies for warmth
for several weeks or months! Depending upon the kind or species of
penguin, the chicks will stay close to their parents or the nest for the
first 2 to 12
months of its life. Chicks are fed by the parents with food that has
been partially digested and given back to the chicks by the parents.
When they are very young, they have a coat of downy (furry looking)
feathers. Later, adult feathers will replace these. Eventually penguin
chicks will leave their parents and go back to sea like their parents.
They will begin to breed just as their parents did.
Other Interesting Facts |
Most penguins spend half there life on land
and half in the water.
As a species, penguins may have been around for
about 65 million years. Fossils of penguins have been found from
the Eocene era more than 40 million years ago.
Diving penguins can reach speeds of 6 to 12
Some penguins mate for life and others mate for
just one season.
It is a myth that polar bears and penguins would
ever meet each other anywhere in the real world. That is because
polar bears live in the northern hemisphere and most penguins live in
Ruth, “Daddy Day Care, Antarctica’s Ultimate Stay at Home Dads.” National
Geographic Kids, Dec. 2004-Jan. 2005. National Geographic Society,
the Wild. Reed Educational and Professional Publishing, Crystal Lake, IL: 1997.
Around the World.
February 2006 <http://www.siec.k12.in.us/~west/proj/penguins/main.html>.
Hile, Jennifer. "Emperor
Penguins, Uniquely Armed for Antarctica." National Geographic
Channel. February 2006 <http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2004/03/0329_040329_TVpenguins.html>.
Wikipedia, the Free Encylopedia. February 2006 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Penguins>.
World Book Online
Reference Center (American English). February
Permission to use photographs of penguins
with chicks and fairy penguins is granted under the terms of the GNU
Free Documentation License from Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page>.
emperor penguin is a work of the National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, taken or made during the
course of an employee's official duties. As works
of the U.S.
federal government, all NOAA images are in the public
domain. Photograph from Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page>.
photograph of penguin with flappers out at sides from "Classroom Clipart" <http://classroomclipart.com>
February, 2006. Images can be used solely educational purposes.
penguin walking and penguin with snowboard from "Animation Library" <http://www.animationlibrary.com>
Images free for non-profit and personal use. (March, 2006).