Commonly thought to be a mammal, the penguin is actually a flightless bird, which spends half of its life underwater and the other half on land.

emperor penguins with chicks

Emperor penguins with chicks (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Penguins have recently seen lots of media attention, with the box office hit Happy Feet and the documentary March of the Penguins that told the story of the long migrations of the aforementioned Emperor Penguins.

Still, if you want to check out some cool facts about penguins, take a look at these 25 facts about everyone’s favorite waddling birds:

  1. There are believed to be 17 species of penguins.  This includes the Aptendytes (Great penguins), Pygoscelis (Brush-Tailed penguins), Eudyptula (Little penguins), Megadyptes (Only 1 kind of Megadypte penguin survives), and Eudyptes (Crested penguins).
  2. Nobody really knows the root of the word “penguin”. The word has no English, French, Spanish or other romantic language roots. As there are no penguins in the Northern Hemisphere, it wasn’t until European explorers discovered them in the South that the world first appeared. It’s first referenced in English and Dutch as “pen gwyn” which in Welsh means “white head”.
  3. Through evolution, the penguin’s wings have evolved into flippers which are more adapted to aquatic life.
  4. Most penguins can move at a total speed of up to 6 to 12 km/h (3.7 to 7.5 mph) while underwater, but the fastest penguin (The Gentoo Penguin) can achieve a remarkable top speeds of 36 Km/h (22 mph). Emperor penguins have also been known to dive as deep as 565 meters (1,870 feet) for 22 minutes - an absolutely incredible feat for a diving bird. Most penguins species however only stay underwater for around 4-5 minutes at a time, as most of their food can be gathered from very low depths.
  5. On land, penguins use their tails to balance themselves in their typical, upright gait. They are able to move quite quickly by hopping on both feet, and sometimes do this to get over rocky terrain. Penguins are also able to “toboggan” by lying on their bellies and sliding down slopes and on icy terrain to save energy.
  6. Penguins bear a remarkable resemblance to birds in flight while swimming underwater.
  7. Penguins have no presence in the Northern Hemisphere.  However, they share remarkable resemblance to the Great Auk, a bird that went extinct in the 19th Century.
  8. All penguins have natural camouflage against predators. The white front of a penguin will disguise it from predators looking from beneath them, and their black backs will disguise it from predators looking from above.
  9. Penguins live in colonies, with the larger species (King and Emperor) living in colonies of up to thousands, while the smaller species number in the hundreds.
  10. Penguins have no land based predators, but count leopard walruses and orca whales as dangerous predators when out at sea.
  11. Penguins eat fish, krill and other small aquatic life forms.
  12. Penguins are able to drink salt water due to the presence of a special gland within their bodies that filters excess salt from their blood stream. This allows them to live around salt-water bodies and survive as they do not need to find near fresh water.
  13. Despite popular belief that penguins only life in cold, freezing climates, some penguins have been found as far south as the Galapagos Islands.
  14. Penguins have no fear of human contact, this has been attributed to their absence of land based predators.
  15. Emperor penguins are by far the most recognizable of penguin types. They are recognizable by their large size and the orange glow around their necks.
  16. Emperor penguins stand upright at nearly 4 feet and weigh up to 90 pounds.
  17. Emperor penguins live in symbiosis with their mates, once they lay an egg it the female and males take turns keeping the egg warm, while the other goes out to recover food.
  18. There is a certain kind of penguin which develops a genetic mutation that gives them a brown coat instead of a black one. These penguins are known as “Isabelline” penguins and because brown does a poor job of camouflaging them in the sea, these penguins are usually found undesirable for mates.
  19. The Galapagos penguin is the only colony of penguin that lives closest to the equator. They are able to sustain themselves because the Humboldt Current brings cold water from the Antarctic to the Galapagos Islands which allows them to hunt for fish and other aquatic species while maintaining the cool temperatures the penguin is used too.
  20. Chinstrap penguins are most populous penguins with a total population of over 13 million. They live on icebergs off the coast of Antarctica.
  21. The smallest penguin species is the Blue Penguin, standing at a total height of 16 to 17 inches tall and weighing only 2 pounds.
  22. If a penguin couple loses its egg, it may sometimes try to “steal” an egg from another couple. This almost never works due to the proximity of the male or female to the egg.
  23. Penguins can sometimes mate for life, whereas some species of penguins only mate for a season.
  24.  Unlike most animal species, penguins in captivity have been noted to engage in homosexual partnerships. This is extremely odd due to the limiting nature that this has on chances of breeding. This phenomenon has only been noted in penguins in captivity however, as penguins in the wild have never exhibited this.
  25. Penguins exhibit remarkable community features, during the cold Antarctic winters where temperatures can go as low as -60 Celsius (-140 degrees Fahrenheit), penguins have been observed huddling in groups for warmth. One penguin stands in the middle while the others crowd around it, once it is warm, it moves to the outside and a new penguin takes its place.

Penguins are fascinating and remarkable creatures, and despite popular myth, there are no penguins found within the North Pole.

However penguins are currently one of the most at risk species due to the changing climate of Antarctica due to the negative effects of global warming. Their habitat is warming up and while they are not at risk yet, scientist remark if global warming continues it will put penguins in danger.