Penguin (animal) – Information, habitat and characteristics

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

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

What are penguins?

We call penguins to the different species of birds belonging to the family Spheniscidae, the only birds on the planet that instead of flying, use their wings to dive in the sea and capture their food. They are almost exclusive species of 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 British, but 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 about 18 living penguin species are known, grouped into six different genera, all descendants of gigantic prehistoric seabirds (plolotperidae) that more than 60 million years ago adapted their bodies to the capture of food submerged in the coasts of New Zealand. It is an adaptation that distinguishes penguins from any other species of seabird that exists.

The Penguins They are social animals that inhabit 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 marine pollution from chemicals and plastics. Several of today’s penguin species are at some risk of extinction.

Penguin characteristics

penguin features
Penguins are characterized by their bodies adapted for swimming.

Penguins are characterized, broadly speaking, by the following:

  • Like all birds, they are bipedal, but lack flight. Their wings, adapted for swimming, have compressed and solid bones, with rigid joints, and their legs are located further back than usual, to allow them to stand in the dry, and also act as rudders underwater. The general shape of their body is hydrodynamic, although they have a very variable size.
  • The Penguins they are excellent swimmers, capable of reaching speeds of up to 60 kmph and holding your breath for up to 18 minutes, in some species. Most of their time is spent submerged, but they emerge to reproduce and spawn.
  • The plumage of penguins consists of three distinct layers, of black and white colors and other variable features according to the species, but also have a thick layer of fat under the skin to isolate body heat from the frozen water and air of Antarctica.
  • They communicate by squawking, with a level of specificity such that they can recognize each other in the middle of noisy and crowded colonies.
  • They are sociable 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 penguins live?

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

The species located in the Antarctic continent they represent 80% of the biomass of the region, although in mating seasons they can migrate to much warmer latitudes. Currently there are colonies of penguins 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?

penguin feeding
Penguins hunt their prey during their dives.

The diet of penguins consists mainly of fish and cephalopods that hunt in 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 drink fresh water.

How do penguins reproduce?

penguin reproduction
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 present a marked sexual dimorphism (difference between males and females), they do present complex courtship and nest-making dynamics, either in underground galleries or locations on the surface.

The emperor penguin, for example, does not create nests, but instead holds 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 baby emerges. The chicks grow rapidly, and after two or three weeks after the first shed, they become completely independent.

How long do penguins live?

The average life span of a penguin varies by species, but in general, it is between 10 and 20 years old, being able to last a little more in ideal conditions of captivity.