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11 facts about penguins

Happy World Penguin Day! And what better way to celebrate than by looking at photos of penguins waddling, swimming, diving, and generally looking adorable. Penguin facts are lifted from the Oxford Index’s overview page entry on penguins (on the seabird, not the 1950s R&B group).

Ice cased Adelie penguins after a blizzard at Cape Denison / photograph by Frank Hurley

Adelie penguins moulting. First Australasian Antarctic Expedition, 1911-1914. From the collections of the Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

There are seventeen species of this flightless seabird.

African Penguin at Artis Zoo, Amsterdam, Netherlands. Photo by Arjan Haverkamp. Creative Commons License. via Wikimedia Commons.

They belong to the family Spheniscidae, which are almost exclusive to the southern hemisphere.


Danco Island, Antarctic Peninsular. Photo by USEPA Environmental-Protection-Agency. Public domain.

Penguin wings are developed into powerful flippers for swimming.

King Penguin photographed in Asahiyama Zoo. Photo by saname777. Creative Commons License. via Wikimedia Commons.

The legs are far back in the body so on land they walk upright.

Penguin. Public domain via Pixabay.

Since they no longer fly, there are no restrictions on their weight, so their bodies are invested with blubber.

King Penguin at Edinburgh Zoo, Scotland. Photo by Dave Morris, 2005. Creative Commons License. via Wikimedia Commons.

This insulates them in the water, but means they tend to overheat on land, so the warm tropics are a barrier to their spread into the northern hemisphere.

Image by NatGeo-GIFs.

The largest, the emperor penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri), stands over a metre high and weighs more than 40 kilograms (98 lb).

Emperor Penguin, Atka Bay, Weddell Sea, Antarctica. Photo by Hannes Grobe/AWI, 2004. Creative Commons Attribution 3.0. via Wikimedia Commons.

Emperors have a unique life history. They breed in rookeries of up to 50,000 pairs on the Antarctic ice shelf.

The World Factbook - Antarctica

A Chinstrap penguin rookery. CIA World Factbook. Public domain.

The young are left in large crèches to overwinter hundreds of kilometres from the ice edge.

Adelie Penguin2

Adelie penguins. Photo by Chadica (cyfer13), 2005. Creative Commons License. via Wikimedia Commons.

They can dive to depths of 265 metres (870 ft).

Antarctic (js) 15

Antarctic. Photo by Jerzy Strzelecki. Creative Commons License. via Wikimedia Commons.

Underwater they swim at speeds of 9–11 kilometres an hour (6–7 mph).

Pygoscelis papua -Edinburgh Zoo, Scotland -swimming-8a

A Gentoo Penguin swimming underwater at Edinburgh Zoo, Scotland. Photo by Debs from England, 2010. Creative Commons License. via Wikimedia Commons.

Featured image credit: Penguins. CC0 via Pixabay.

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  1. Dan's Guide

    Celebrating World Penguin Day 2013!

  2. […] marvellous photo above by Frank Hurley was featured at the top of an Oxford University Press blog.  In our humble opinion this is one of the funniest photos of penguins, inviting caption contests. […]

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