There is a mysterious ritual that dates back thousands of years. No living creature has survived it except the penguin.

~March of the Peguins~

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Penguin is thought by some to derive from the Welsh words pen (head) and gwyn (white), applied to the Great Auk, which had a conspicuous white patch between the bill and the eye (although its head was black), or from an island off Newfoundland known as "White Head" due to a large white rock. According to another theory, the original name was pen-wing, with reference to the rudimentary wings of both Great Auks and penguins. A third theory is that penguin comes from the Latin pinguis (fat).


The signature species of Antarctica -- the mascot, if you will -- is the penguin. There are not one but no fewer than 17 species of penguins, of which only four breed on the Antarctic continent itself. These include the Adelie, the Emperor, the Chinstrap and the Gentoo penguins. Several other species are sometimes found within the Antarctic region, and penguins are found as far north as the Galapagos Islands, straddling the equator. But in general, the link in the public imagination between Antarctica and penguins is supported by the numbers -- there are millions of nesting pairs of Chinstrap penguins alone, and they are by far the most numerous creatures in the region.

Flightless Birds

Penguins are flightless birds which have adapted to living in the cooler waters of the Southern Hemisphere. The 17 species of penguins found today are thought to have evolved from petrel-like flying birds some 50 million years ago. Some species spend as much as 75% of their lives in the ocean, yet they all breed on land or sea-ice attached to the land.

All penguins have a very similar torpedo-shaped body form, though they vary greatly in size. Penguin wings are highly modified to form stiff paddle-like flippers used for swimming, and their feet and stubby tails combine to form a rudder. The penguin's bones are solid and heavy, which help them to remain submerged and reduce the energy needed for diving.

Penguins are able to withstand the extreme cold because insulation provided by their short, densely-packed feathers forms a waterproof coat. A thick layer of fat or blubber also serves as an energy store. These adaptations, among others, enable them to minimize heat loss in icy cold waters so they can cope with the harsh conditions of the Antarctic.


Penguins communicate by complex ritual behaviors such as head and flipper waving, calling, bowing, gesturing and preening. Territorial disputes lead to aggressive postures such as stares, pointing and even charging. Courtship and mating rituals include so called "ecstatic displays" where a bird, typically an unattached male, pumps his chest several times and, with his head stretched upwards and flippers akimbo, emits a harsh loud braying sound. This can result in a mass trumpeting by other males, which is believed to help synchronize the breeding cycle.


All the Antarctic penguin species save the Emperor breed in the brief austral (southern) summer months. Mating takes place in spring for the three "brush tailed" (pygoscelid) species -- the Chinstrap, Gentoo and Adelie -- who make their nests out of rocks, bones and feathers. Adult pairs take turns incubating their eggs and feeding the chicks once they have hatched. Antarctic penguins feed mostly on fish, squid and krill, a shrimp-like crustacean which is the key species in the Antarctic ecosystem.


Penguins are very efficient swimmers. Though they are comfortable at speeds around 5 mph (8 km/ph), some species can travel at 7 mph (12 km/ph) in short bursts. When traveling quickly, penguins will leap clear of the water every few feet -- an action called "porpoising" due to its resemblance to porpoise behavior. This enables them to breathe, and decreases their chances of being taken by a predator.

Antarctic penguins have also developed the ability to leap out of the water to a substantial height on land, enabling them to reach raised ice edges or rock ledges. Penguin legs are set far down on their bodies, so they walk with a very erect posture. Ashore they are often awkward, waddling and hopping over rocks; on snow they sometimes push themselves along on their stomachs.


Antarctic penguins are highly social birds which usually breed in large colonies called "rookeries". Healthy adult penguins have no predators on land, so they have no natural fear of humans. While they don't like to be approached directly, they will sometimes come quite close to a quiet observer due to their own natural curiosity. They do have predators, however: skuas and southern giant petrels will attack chicks and sick or injured adults

Penguin Facts

Birds Who Can’t Fly

Penguins are birds who are no longer able to fly, but are great swimmers and divers instead. Their wings have morphed into flippers and their torpedo-shapes body allows them to swim under water at high speeds. This also causes them to waddle on land.

Devoted Parents

Little baby penguins have two devoted parents. Unlike many other species, especially other birds, the fathers are very involved in the process of hatching the egg and taking care of the baby penguins. Mom and Dad will take turns warming the egg and searching for food.

All It Takes Is A Little Body Heat

In the cold climate that penguins live it, keeping the egg warm is an essential task for penguin parents. In some penguin species, the dads will balance the egg on their feed, covering it with their belly flap to keep the egg warm. When it gets very cold, all the dads huddle together to keep themselves and their eggs warm.

The Special Penguin Gland

Since penguins spend a good bit of their live in the ocean, they are constantly swallowing sea water. A special gland behind their beak helps them filter out the salt from the water. They also eat snow as a source of fresh water.

Sleeping At Sea

Living on the ice can be quite dangerous, with natural predators lurking around each corner. Because of this many penguin species don’t go back on the ice or dry land to sleep. Instead they take little naps in the water instead.


Huddle To Keep Warm

When male penguins stay on land to take care of the egg, they will huddle together to stay warm. Penguins rotate from the outside to the warmer inside of the huddle. This allows them to keep their body temperature high enough to incubate the egg until the baby penguin is born.

Using Sign Language

Penguins use a sign language of sorts to communicate with each other. They will wave their flippers and move their heads to "talk" to other penguins in the group.

Penguins have developed senses

What they lack with their hearing though they more than make up for with their eyesight. They are able to see very far both on land and under the water. They can see extremely well both during the day and at night. Yet you will mainly find penguins hunting during the day. Research also indicates that penguins are able to see in color. It is also believed that they have an extremely good sense of smell.

Penguins sleep standing up

Some people wonder if penguins actually sleep or not. They do sleep with their flippers out to help them retain their body temperature. The amount of time that they will sleep depends on the environment. Generally they will sleep more when they are molting because they don’t eat much if at all during that period of time. Additional sleep allows them to reduce the amount of energy that they use.

One of the reasons why many people don’t think penguins sleep though is because some of them do it standing up. This is very common when they live in extremely could areas and they have to keep eggs warm. They will huddle together to stay as warm as possible. They will sleep most of the time too in order to not waste energy as they can’t leave the eggs to go hunt for food.

Penguins are oriented by the sun

Penguins are often seen looking upwards, and they do this to find out where they sun is in the sky. That is how they determine when they should be in the water and when they should be on land. They also use the sun to help them stay in course when they migrate. Penguins in some areas such as close to the equator can also get sunburned. This is why they cover their feet with their flippers as they walk on land. This is also why the colors of the feathers for the young are different than adults. They don’t have the layers of fat yet to protect them from the sunlight.

Penguins were once thought to be some kind of fish, but were later discovered to be birds.


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