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Penguin Facts

In order to understand the adaptations penguins have, we first need to look at some of the characteristics of all birds.

  • Birds have their feathers in rows, with spaces in between.
  • In order to fly they need extra light bones. They have extra air spaces in all their bones to make them lighter.
  • The arrangement of bones in the “hand” makes them very flexible, which helps with flying.
  • Birds are very lean; this means they have very little fat.

Some Penguins live in the Antarctic, where it is extremely cold, and the water temperatures never rise above freezing. Others live further North, but all penguins live in the Southern Hemisphere. The furthest North that Penguins live is in the Galapagos Islands. Some Penguins (Emperor Penguins) never step on land. When they are not in the water they live on ice floes. All penguins are flightless birds. They cannot fly at all, but they are wonderful swimmers. In Penguins the wing is known as a flipper.

Structural Adaptations:

  • They are white on the front and black on the back. In water, the only place they are really at risk from predators, this gives them camouflage. From below they are white and cannot be easily seen against the lighter surface of the sea. From above they blend in with the darker depths.
  • Penguin feathers are extremely densely packed, with no gaps between them. This gives them good protection against the cold.
  • Each feather has an extra part behind it, so that they can fluff their feathers up. This keeps them warm in the cold and allows them to cool off when the weather is warmer.
  • They don’t have all the extra airspaces in their bones that normal birds have. This helps them sink in the water.
  • They have a layer of blubber (fat) beneath their skin. This helps them keep warm.
  • They can control the flow of blood through the fat. When it is very cold almost no blood passes through the fat. When they are warm, the blood flow increases so they can cool off.
  • The “hand” bones are fused (stuck) together. This is because water is thicker than air, and in water the flexible arrangement of flying birds would not make the wings strong enough to pull them through water.
  • Emperor and King Penguins have a special flap of skin on their feet. They do not build nests from twigs and leaves. They only lay one egg, and keep it on their feet, under the flap of skin so it can’t roll off. The feathers come down over the feet, keeping the egg warm.
  • Behavioral Adaptations:

  • Penguins live in large communities. This helps keep them warm.
  • They make their nests side by side and after the chicks are born they all huddle together to stay warm.
  • Living close together in large communities also protects them from the few predators, who might like to make a meal of them. Any walrus or sea lion happening upon them will only be able to grab one penguin from the edge of the group.
  • Penguins pick up stones and store them in their crop. This makes them heavier when they are in water.

Neat Penguin Facts:

  1. They are considered to be the most specialized animals on the planet, and yet they are not endangered.
  2. Penguin pairs share duties. The female builds the nest and lays the egg, while the male hunts and eats, this takes up to 3 weeks. Then the female hunts and eats, while the male sits on the egg. Once the egg has hatched both parents collect food and feed the young.
  3. A penguin can pick its own baby out of a crowd of thousands, to feed it. They never feed the wrong one.
  4. The Emperor Penguin is the only bird that never touches land.

Related Articles:
Animals and Adaptations
Animals in Antarctica
The Weather and Climate in Antarctica

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