10 Interesting Facts About Penguins

While it’s true that just about every animal out there ranks high on the cuteness scale, there is something really special and enduring about penguins. From their adorable looks to their playful nature – and let’s not forget the way they waddle when they walk – penguins often put smiles on people’s faces. It’s no wonder that penguin exhibits at zoos tend to be where visitors flock to.

If the thought of penguins already has you smiling, you may be interested to learn that April 25 is World Penguin Day. This is a day meant to recognize these adorable creatures and appreciate their unique characteristics.

In honor of World Penguin Day, here are 10 interesting facts about penguins.

Their Coloring Serves a Practical Purpose

Gentoo Penguin - Pygoscelis papua -Gentoo Penguin colony
Image Credit: Shutterstock / Ion Mes

Penguins are highly recognizable thanks to their black-and-white coloring. People often refer to their coloring as a “tuxedo”, making them look rather proper. But did you know their black-and-white coloring serves a practical purpose?

The coloring of their feathers actually serves to produce countershading, which helps them to camouflage in their environment. When penguins swim on their back, predators looking up at them from deep within the ocean won’t spot them. It makes them practically invisible. At the same time, their white bellies sticking up towards the sky also make them invisible to airborne predators.

The Little Penguin Gets the Title of the Smallest Penguin

Little penguins, the small species of penguin with the height at 40-45cm
Image Credit: Shutterstock / oNabby

Most people are familiar with the largest penguins, which are the Emperor penguins, but the smallest one doesn’t tend to be as well-known. The Little Penguin is the smallest of all the species and is also called the Fairy Penguin or Blue Penguin. It weighs just 1 kg–1.2 kg and is only 33 cm tall.

The great news about the Little Penguin is that its population is considered “stable” and is of “least concern”. They can be found in New Zealand and Australia. Unlike more traditional-looking penguins, these have grey-blue feathers, blue eyes, a dark grey bill, and pinky-colored feet.

How Do Penguins Manage to Stay Warm?

Two Pairs King Penguin, Aptenodytes patagonicus, Island Sounders, Falkland Islands
Image Credit: Shutterstock / Vladislav T. Jirousek

Penguins can live in some very cold climates, not to mention swim in cold water. While it’s true that their feathers do a good job of keeping them warm, they need more than that. An interesting fact many don’t realize is that they have a gland that produces waterproof oil that they can cover themselves with. The gland is found at the base of their tail.

What’s also interesting is that they lose all their feathers once a year. This is called “catastrophic molt”, and is such a huge amount of feather loss that they can’t swim and fish until they have finished molting and their new feathers grow back.

Habitats Can Be Found In Different Places Around the World

Large colony of gentoo penguins, with floating icebergs in blue sea background, sunny day, Antarctic Peninsula
Image Credit: Shutterstock / MZPHOTO.CZ

Some animal species are known for only living in one or two areas of the world, but that’s not the case for penguins. Penguins have a rather far reach as they can be found in the Antarctic Islands, Antarctica, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.

Yes, Some Penguins Do Indeed Mate for Life

King penguin mating couple cuddling in wild nature, snow and ice.
Image Credit: Shutterstock / Ondrej Prosicky

One unique feature about penguins and mating is that some species mate for life. Chinstraps, rockhoppers, and gentoos pick a mate and stick with them for life. No matter what, these penguins return to each other each year come breeding season. What’s shocking is that even though there can be thousands, even hundreds of thousands of penguins in a colony, they can still find their mate from the previous year. Call them hopeless romantics!

Penguins Typically Breed in Spring and Summer

Pinguin incubates an egg on the South Shetland Islands, very close to Antarctica.
Image Credit: Shutterstock / yiannisscheidt

Here’s a fact that isn’t true for all types, but generally tends to be the case. Most of the time, species have an annual breeding season that begins in spring and ends in summer. The breeding cycle varies depending on the type. For example, the king penguin has the longest breeding cycle, lasting up to 16 months, while the little penguin has the shortest of just 50 days.

Penguins Are Known as Being Highly Social

Three penguins are jumping into the ocean.
Image Credit: Shutterstock / Parichart Munsgool

If it seems like penguins are often interacting with one another and appear very social, you aren’t far off. They are known as being one of the most social types of birds in the world. They coexist in large groups, making them “colonial”. Some groups can reach as big as hundreds of thousands of penguins. That also means they require a lot of space to house the full group, which could entail hundreds of square miles.

They don’t just live in a group, they also tend to swim, hunt, and feed in groups. Living in a group helps during courting season and provides added safety.

Penguins Swim Pretty Quickly

A flock of African penguins diving among fish.
Image Credit: Shutterstock / silvae

As far as how quickly penguins swim, it depends on the type/species. But on average, they reach top speeds of 20 mph. When you see them darting around in the water, they are more likely going 4-7 mph. The fastest type of penguins are gentoo penguins, who can swim as fast as 22 mph. Not only are they the fastest swimming penguins, but they are the fastest swimming birds out there.

Penguins Can Dive Incredibly Deep

Penguins swimming underwater
Image Credit: Shutterstock / David Herraez Calzada

Everyone knows penguins are great swimmers, and as mentioned above, they can be pretty fast swimmers too. But have you ever wondered how deep they can dive? The Australian Antarctic Division’s deepest penguin dive was 1,850 feet and was done by an emperor penguin. Generally speaking, emperor penguins consistently stay under the water for 20 minutes or more, which is pretty shocking.

There Are 17-20 Different Types of Penguins

A group of different penguin species in South Georgia
Image Credit: Shutterstock / Danita Delimont

Scientists aren’t in agreement about how many types of penguins exist, but they tend to state between 17-20. The problem is that some are so similar that some scientists don’t classify them as a different type. That’s still a lot of penguins, and many have distinguishable features.

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