Interesting Facts About Penguin For Kids
Where do penguins live? Do they have teeth? Are penguins mammals or sea animals or birds? Read our article to know more such interesting facts about penguins.
By Arun Sharma
Penguin facts for kids
As parents, most of us would have seen our children fall in love with Pingu the penguin. The way the penguin walks, flaps its flippers and appears to enjoy diving in the icy waters adds to its cuteness quotient and popularity.
Since the first sighting of the penguin by Alvero Vello, a crew member of Vasco de Gama, our knowledge about this flightless bird has grown manifold. However, not many of us know much about the penguin. So, here are some fun, interesting facts about penguins that you and your child should know.
The penguin species
The South pole, one of the coldest regions on earth, is home to the largest population of penguins. But, penguins are also found elsewhere in sizeable numbers.
To most of us, all penguins look similar, which is not the case.
- There are 6 genus and 18 different species of penguins living around the world.
- These species are divided into 6 groups based on how closely related they are to each other.
- The groups are: Large/great penguins, brush-tailed penguins, little penguins, crested penguins, yellow-eyed penguins and banded penguins.
- The large/great penguins measure between 40 and 48 inches in height and between 22 and 45kg in weight.
- Fossil records show that there lived much larger species of penguins. The ‘monster penguin’ stood 5.6 feet tall and weighed around 80kg. Around 37 million years ago, there existed a penguin which measured 6.5 feet tall and weighed 115kg.
Physical features of penguins
The modern species of penguins evolved between 11 and 16 million years ago. They are morphologically similar to birds like the albatross and the frigate bird, yet nature has blessed them with some unique physical features. These help the penguin survive even in the most tough environmental conditions.
Head and bill: The head of the penguin is small. Its round shape helps the penguin move in water without meeting much resistance. The bill is quite long, with a curve at its end that makes the beak look like a hook. Apart from catching food, the penguin also uses its beak to carry objects like small stones to make a nest. There are backward-facing spine-like projections on the penguin’s tongue which help in swallowing food.
Eyes: Different species of penguins have eyes of different colours. However, the eyesight of penguins is very good. Not only can they see clearly in water and perceive depth, but also see different colours.
Body: A shape of a penguin’s body is different from that of birds. It has a fusiform body (tapered at both ends) which ensures that there is minimal resistance when swimming, even in dense water. In fact, a penguin’s body is similar to that of long-distance swimmers like the whale, the dolphin and the seal.
Flippers: As the penguin evolved, with the increase in its ability to swim in water, it lost the ability to fly. And, the structures in the wings fused to form the perfect flipper. A penguin’s flipper is flat and broad, with tapered edges and a rounded tip. This helps the penguin swim exceptionally well. The flippers are held in an extended position while moving upright on land to maintain balance. They are held close to the body during times of excessive cold to keep the body warm.
Body colour: The white feathers on the belly of the penguin make it less visible in water when seen from below, thus keeping it safe from predators. The black feathers on the back are thought to absorb heat from sunlight and keep the body warm. Every year, the penguin sheds its old feathers and grows new ones. This process is called molting. Due to the loss of feathers during molting, a penguin can feel the cold. So, it stays on land and does not venture into water. It does not eat anything during molting, which goes on for 2 to 3 weeks; so, before molting begins, a penguin eats more to build its body’s fat reserve.
Legs and feet: Like humans, the legs of a penguin is made up of four parts — the femur, the knee, the tibia and the fibula. Although the legs are short, their position in the body allows the penguin to stand upright and walk with small steps. The walking speed of a penguin averages between 1 and 2.5 miles per hour. The webbed feet of the penguin aid in swimming. Together with the tail, the feet act like rudders when swimming. There is a rich network of blood vessels in the feet. These increase or decrease the blood flow depending on the temperature, thus preventing the feet from freezing when walking on ice.
Tail: A penguin has a short, wedge-shaped tail. But, some species of penguins like the Adele, Gentoo and Chinstrap have a slightly longer tail. There are between 14 and 18 stiff feathers in the tail. A penguin uses its tail to do a number of things — it is used as a rudder while in water, as an assist when climbing a steep incline and to balance itself when walking on land.
Feathers: Although it does not look so from a distance, a penguin does have feathers. These are shiny and overlap each other to form a protective cover which shields the penguin from water as well as cold.
Interesting facts about penguin species
Emperor Penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri)
- They are the largest of all penguin species and measure about 115cm in height.
- Found in Antarctica, their bodies are adapted to survive in very low temperatures.
- Emperor penguins are good swimmers and can dive up to a depth of 500m.
- An adult penguin consumes between 2 and 6kg of food every day.
King Penguin (Aptenodytes patagonicus)
- In size, they are second only to Emperor penguins and inhabit the continent of Antarctica.
- They can grow up to 100cm in height and weigh between 10 and 16kg.
- They can stay under water for up to 5 minutes and dive to a depth of 100m.
- The King penguin carries its egg on top of its feet as it doesn’t make a nest
- They have a long lifespan and can live up to 25 years in the wild.
Gentoo Penguin (Pygoscelis papua)
- This is the third largest penguin species. They measure between 50 and 90cm in height and weigh around 4.5 to 8.5kg.
- These penguins have white stripes running from one eye to the other, passing over the head.
- Although they hunt close to the shore, they can also venture as far as 26km into the sea.
- This is the fastest swimming penguin species. They can attain speeds of up 36kmph.
Adelie Penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae)
- They were discovered in 1840 by the French Antarctic explorer Jules Dumont d’Urville and named after his wife Adéle.
- They are medium-sized birds that stand 70cm tall and weigh between 3 and 6kg.
- Adults build nests using small rocks to lay eggs and rear the chicks together. They even steal rocks from the neighbour’s nest.
- They can dive up to 180m in water to find food.
Chinstrap Penguin (Pygoscelis antarcticus)
- They are so named due to the thin black band around their chin.
- Apart from Antarctica, they are also found in islands of the South Atlantic ocean and Balleny Islands.
- These penguins are very social and live in large colonies. However, they are also very aggressive.
- They have a lifespan of around 20 years.
African Penguin (Spheniscus demersus)
- These penguins are found on islands and the coastal areas of Namibia and South Africa.
- They are small to medium-sized, growing to a height of 60 to 68cm.
- Their diet consists of crustaceans and fish, of which they like anchovies.
- They have good underwater vision but cannot see that well on land.
- They have a lifespan between 15 and 20 years.
Erect-crested Penguin (Eudyptes sclateri)
- This penguin species is named after the English zoologist Philip Lutley Sclater.
- They are found on the islands in southern New Zealand and along the coast of Australia. However, they breed only in New Zealand.
- They prefer living in beaches with rocky cliffs that have sparse vegetation.
- They have yellow plumes over their eyes which stand erect.
Galapagos Penguin (Spheniscus mendiculus)
- Although penguins are only found in the southern hemisphere, this species sometimes crosses the equator.
- This is the third smallest penguin species. They grow to a height of 48 to 50cm.
- Almost 90 per cent penguins of this species live on the islands of Fernandina and Isabela (in the Galapagos archipelago in the Pacific Ocean).
- Galapagos penguins don’t have a breeding season and may lay more than one clutch of eggs in a year. They have a lifespan of 15 to 20 years.
Humboldt Penguin (Spheniscus humboldti)
- This species is named after the cold ocean current called the Humboldt current.
- These medium-sized penguins are found along the coastline of Chile and Peru.
- These penguins have pink patches on their face, on the underside of their wings and their feet.
- They can dive to a depth of approximately 150m, although they prefer to hunt 60m below the surface.
Fiordland Penguin (Eudyptes pachyrhynchus)
- This penguin species is found on the South Islands of New Zealand.
- It is also called the thick-billed penguin. From the base of the bill to over the eye extends a line of yellow feathers.
- Fiordland penguins spend most of the winter months in the ocean.
- These penguins are nocturnal. They spend most of the day resting in their nest.
Little (or Blue) Penguin (Eudyptula minor)
- This is the smallest penguin species. Their average height is 30cm and their weight varies between 1.1 and 1.2kg.
- They are found on the southern coast of Australia and along the coast of New Zealand.
- They are also called blue penguins as the feathers on their dorsal side is indigo blue in colour.
- The little penguin has an average lifespan of only 6 years.
Macaroni Penguin (Eudyptes chrysolophus)
- These penguins are found in Antarctica and the sub-Antarctic islands They are also found in the islands on the coast of South America.
- They are medium-sized birds that stand approximately 70cm tall and weigh up to 5.5kg.
- The first egg of this species is usually smaller than the second one and is less likely to develop.
- These penguins live in very large colonies of up to 2.5 million birds.
Magellanic Penguin (Spheniscus magellanicus)
- This medium-sized penguin can reach a height of 60 to 75cm and a weight of 2.7 to 6.5kg.
- They have a white stripe above their eyes, which runs around the head and joins together at the back of the neck.
- In search of food, the Magellanic penguin can travel up to 500km from its nest.
- These penguins have a long lifespan between 25 and 30 years.
Rockhopper Penguin (Eudyptes chrysocome)
- This is a small species of penguin which weighs between 2 and 4kg.
- They have red eyes, an orange–red beak and pink feet.
- They are named rock-hoppers as they often jump from one rock to another.
- They have yellow feathers above their eyes which looks like a line. These extend to form a spike.
- These penguins are facing extinction, as their numbers have decreased by more than 25%.
Royal Penguin (Eudyptes schlegeli)
- This is a medium to large-sized penguin that is about 60 to 70cm tall and weighs around 3 to 6kg.
- These penguins spend most of their time in Antarctica but to breed, they travel to Macquarie Island which lies midway between New Zealand and Antarctica.
- They have yellow plumes on their face which meet at the middle of the forehead, above the beak.
- The female lays 2 eggs at a time, but the first egg is usually kicked out of the nest.
Snares Penguin (Eudyptes robustus)
- This is a medium-sized penguin species that is found only on Snares Island of New Zealand.
- They have a yellow crest which begins at the base of the bill and extends over the eyes and beyond.
- They are often confused with Fiordland crested penguins because of the yellow crest.
Yellow-eyed Penguin (Megadyptes antipodes)
- Found in the southern parts of New Zealand, these penguins are also called hoiho or tarakaka.
- This is the largest penguin species found outside Antarctica. Their height ranges between 56 and 78cm and weight between 5 and 8kg.
- The colour of their eyes is yellow and the adult male has yellow plumage on its head.
- Their average lifespan is around 23 years.
How penguins communicate
Penguins are social birds and live in large colonies. So, it is essential for them to communicate with each other. To express their needs and feelings, they use two modes of communication: (1) Vocal and (2) Visual.
- In vocal communication, a penguin produces various sounds. The objectives could be to contact its mate and chicks, to warn away those who are intruding into its territory, and to warn others about the presence of predators.
- In visual communication, a penguin uses its body to send across a message. Visual communication signals include flapping of the flippers, bending the neck, and waving the beak.
According to a report published in various newspapers around the world, Italian researchers led by Dr Livio Favaro have decoded the language of penguins.
Interesting penguin facts
- Penguins mate for life. The male presents a pebble to the female and if she accepts it, they become mates.
- In a penguin colony where the population runs into thousands, a penguin can identify its mate by its call. Similarly, the chick will respond to a call by its parent.
- Both parents care for the chicks.
- The call sounds made by Emperor and King penguins can be heard as far as 1km away.
- Population declines may be attributed to food shortage due to competition with commercial fisheries, human disturbance, egg-collecting, weather events, and oil spills.
- The white in a penguin’s egg turns clear after boiling. This is due to the presence of penalalbumin.
- 25 April is the unofficial World Penguin Day while 20 January is celebrated as Penguin Awareness Day.
- Under the Antarctic Treaty of 1959, all the 18 species of penguins are legally protected. So, hunting penguins and collecting their eggs is prohibited.
With increasing pollution in oceans, ecological disasters, global warming, overfishing and destruction of habitat and encroachment by humans of nesting areas, penguins are fighting for their survival. Let us get together and take steps to ensure that this wonder of nature survives and thrives.
About the author:
Written by Arun Sharma on 24 January 2020
The author was associated with the healthcare industry before becoming a full-time writer and editor. A doting father to two preteens, he believes in experiential learning for his children. Also, he loves mountain trekking and nature trips.
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