Factismal: Today is Penguin Awareness Day.
Penguins are among the world’s most mis-understood animals. When they aren’t being mis-cast in cola commercials, they are being portrayed as tap-dancing dandies. In truth, the seventeen living species of penguins are far more interesting than their stereotypes. In honor of World Penguin Awareness Day, here are ten quick facts about penguins:
- Penguins don’t just live in Antarctica. The Galapagos Penguin lives on the Galapagos Islands, right on the Equator. In addition, there are penguins in Africa (the Africa penguin), New Zealand (Snares, Erect-crested, Yellow-eyed, and Fiordland penguins), Australia (the Little Blue penguin), and South America (King, Magellanic, and Rock-hopper penguins).
- Penguins mostly eat krill. Though penguins enjoy fish when they can get it, they mostly dine on tiny little shrimpoids called krill. The problem with that is that krill is rich in fluoride, which can be poisonous in high concentration. In order to avoid that, penguins throw up their stomach linings, forming bright green puddles of goo on the shore.
- Penguin chicks don’t all hatch at the same time. If all of the penguin eggs were laid at the same time and hatched together, then the whole colony would be vulnerable to an unseasonable cold snap or strong storm. By staggering the clutches of eggs, the colony ensures that there will always be another generation. As a result, it is very common to see eggs, hatchlings, and young adults in the same colony.
- Like all birds, penguins just have one opening for pooping, peeing, and laying eggs. Called the cloaca, which is Latin for “sewer”, this arrangement is common in amphibians and reptiles as well.
- Penguins will “swim” on snow by lying on their bellies and pushing along with their feet and fins. Biologists call this “tobogganing”; everyone else just calls it cute. They do this in order to move quickly, which helps them avoid predators.
- Most penguins build their nests out of pebbles. Because penguins live in extreme environments, there isn’t much in the way of plant growth. So there aren’t any twigs to use for a nest. But there are lots of rocks. Building a nest out of rocks also allows the nest to drain quickly when it rains. But because there aren’t enough really good pebbles lying around, penguins will steal them from other penguins’ nests!
- The world’s largest Chinstrap colony is on an active volcano. More than 200,000 chinstrap penguins live in one colony on Deception Island. This active volcano had its last eruption in 1969
- Penguin tongues have barbs. The barbs all point back into the throat, which helps the penguin as it tries to swallow things that would much rather be swimming away.
- Penguins are the fastest swimming bird. They can go as fast as 20 mph while porpoising. As the name suggests, porpoising means that the penguin jumps in and out of the water like a porpoise. This helps them move very quickly and keeps them out of the water where orcas and seals (both of whom think penguins are quite tasty) live.
- Penguins spend about three-quarters of their lives in the water, searching for food. It takes a lot of energy to be a bird, and it takes even more to be a bird that lives in a cold region. As a result, penguins must eat almost constantly in order to build up enough fat to survive the winter. Since their food lives in the water, that means that penguins must spend a lot of time in the water, hunting for food.
If you’d like to watch penguins as they frolic, then please hie you to