Penguins

© Fritz Pölking / WWF © Wim van Passel / WWF-Canon © Greg & Kate Bourne / WWF-Aus © Greg & Kate Bourne / WWF-Aus © Fritz Pölking / WWF © Wim van Passel / WWF-Canon © Staffan Widstrand / WWF © Greg & Kate Bourne / WWF-Aus © naturepl.com / Edwin Giesbers / WWF © Fritz Pölking / WWF © Greg & Kate Bourne / WWF-Aus © Michael Harte © Michael Harte © Michael Harte © Michael Harte © Fritz Pölking / WWF
Penguins are flightless birds perfectly designed for the marine environment. They are excellent swimmers with a torpedo shaped body, feet and tail that act as a rudder and flippers that act as propellers. A waterproof coat of feathers with an under layer of woolly down plus a layer of fat protects them against the cold.

Penguins eat mainly small fish and krill. In turn, penguins become food for other marine animals, namely leopard seals and killer whales. On land their main predators are skuas and sheathbills - carnivorous birds that take both eggs and chicks.

There is still debate about the classification of some penguins, and depending on which authority is followed, there are 17, and perhaps up to 20, species of penguin. Four of these species live and nest on and around the Antarctic continent and the rest are found in sub-Antarctic regions.

The four populations of penguins that live and breed on the Antarctic continent – Adélie, emperor, chinstrap and gentoo – are under escalating pressure. For some, global warming is taking away precious ground on which penguins raise their young. For others, food has become increasingly scarce because of changing environmental conditions.

What is clear is that these unique, hardy and charismatic creatures face an extremely tough battle to adapt to the unprecedented rate of climate change.

Penguins Facts

  • A group of penguins is called a colony or a rookery.
     
  • King and emperor penguins lean back on their heels against their stiff tail using it to balance like a tripod to reduce contact with the ice and reduce heat loss.
     
  • Emperor penguins stay warm by huddling in groups that may comprise up to thousands.
     
  • Cold climate penguin species usually have longer feathers and thicker fat than those in warmer climates.
     
  • Ancient species of penguin date back to around 60 million years ago in the Paleocene period.
     
  • Penguins have a salt-secreting gland to get rid of salt in the water they drink.
Group of Adelie Penguins in Antarctica. / ©: Greg & Kate-Bourne / WWF-Aus
© Greg & Kate-Bourne / WWF-Aus
Adélie penguin
Named in the 1800’s by the French explorer Jules Dumont d'Urville for his wife Adélie, these penguins stand 46-75 cm high and weigh from 3.9-5.8 kg.
Emperor penguin adults (Aptenodytes forsteri) and chick, Dawson-Lambton Glacier, Antarctica. / ©: Fritz Pölking / WWF
© Fritz Pölking / WWF
Emperor penguin
The largest of the penguin species, the emperor grows up to 1.15 metres tall and weighs up to 40 kg. They are very deep divers, often diving to about 250 metres with dives lasting on average 3–6 minutes.
Chinstrap penguin, Antarctica. / ©: Greg & Kate Bourne / WWF-Aus
© Greg & Kate Bourne / WWF-Aus
Chinstrap penguin
Chinstraps grow up to 76 centimetres tall and weigh between 3–6 kilograms. They are identified by the narrow band of black feathers extending from ear to ear, just below the chin and the cheeks.
Gentoo penguins, Antarctica.
 / ©: Greg & Kate Bourne / WWF-Aus
© Greg & Kate Bourne / WWF-Aus
Gentoo penguins
Gentoo penguins stand about 75-90 centimetres tall and weigh up to 8.5kg with a red-orange bill and white patches above each eye which make them distinguishable from other species of penguin.