10 Fascinating Facts about Penguins from Zoologist Lucy Cooke

Fun Facts about Penguins from the Author of The Truth About Animals

  1. some penguins live near the equator
    Penguins on the move. Photo by Jean Wimmerlin.

    Life in a wetsuit is sweltering. Waddling around in a thick-feathered wetsuit can leave penguins roasting on the inside. Ever-resourceful Humboldt penguins, living on the barren coast of Peru, improvise shade by carving castles of crap from piles of their own mature manure.

  2. Underwater, penguins can fly. The penguins’ farcical walk is quite deceptive. Those stiff feet, so ill at ease on land, act as a rudder underwater, allowing penguins to make hairpin turns at speeds of over thirty miles per hour.

  3. Evolution of a waddle. The muscles that control penguins’ feet have to stay warm to function, so they’re hidden under feathers way up in a penguin’s leg. They maneuver their extremities by a remote “pulley” system that’s about as efficient as operating a Muppet and that gives the penguin its distinctive wobble.

  4. Eating at warp speed. Over time, penguins ditched the large, fragile wings and light-boned bodies that favor conventional airborne flight to become blubber bullets with short, powerful flightless flippers and squat, streamlined bodies—a shape so effective that nothing designed by humans has ever managed to beat the penguin’s low drag coefficient.

  5. Flying fish? Some early explorers thought they were part bird, part fish. Others saw them as some kind of missing link between dinosaurs and birds.

  6. From ice sheets to tropics. Not all penguins spend their lives skidding around on the ice; half of the existing species inhabit far cozier climes as far north as the equator.

  7. Tuxedoes come in all sizes. The southern coast of Australia is home to several colonies of fairy penguins, the planet’s littlest penguins, standing at just twelve inches tall. Emperor penguins, on the other hand, top out at nearly four feet.

  8. Penguins are cheaters. Although penguin couples have become world-famous for raising their eggs as partners, most penguins, for a start, are far from monogamous. The worst offenders are those “romantic” stars of the big screen, the emperors, with a whopping 85 percent switching partners from one year to the next.

  9. Sex for stones. Female Adélie penguins are one of the only species known to exchange goods for sex. Females dupe lone bachelors into having a quickie only to make off with some hard currency—stones—that they need to amass in order to protect their nests from drowning in frigid meltwater.

  10. Some penguin relationships stand the test of time.  Same-sex penguin partnerships have been particularly well documented in zoos. Dotty and Zee, two males at the Bremerhaven Zoo in Germany, recently celebrated their tenth anniversary together and have even adopted and raised a chick together.

Looking for more facts about penguins, pandas, sloths, hippos and more?

Check out The Truth About Animals by Lucy Cooke

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