Penguins (Family Spheniscidae) are 18 species of flightless seabirds found in the Southern Hemisphere. Many Penguins species, especially emperor and Adélie, are best known for their ability to survive in the icy extremes of Antarctica. Yet, some penguins live in warmer regions — the Galápagos penguin even dwells on islands near the balmy Equator. The other species inhabit the Antarctic Peninsula, subantarctic islands, or coastal areas of South America, Africa, Australia, and New Zealand.
Penguins are remarkably adapted for life at sea and can spend as much as 75% of their time in the ocean. Instead of flying in the air like other birds, penguins flap their wings to fly through the water at dizzying speeds. Their shiny, closely-spaced feathers overlap like shingles to keep water away from the skin. They also have more feathers than most other birds, with about 100 feathers per square inch, to help keep them warm.
Many penguins are threatened by overfishing, accidental entanglement in fishing nets and lines, oil spills, and climate change. You can help penguins by choosing sustainable seafood and reducing your energy use at home, school, or work.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: How many different types of penguins are there?
SW: There are 18 different penguin species: emperor, king, gentoo, Adélie, chinstrap, little, yellow-eyed, Snares, macaroni, northern and southern rockhopper, Fiordland, erect-crested, Royal, African, Humboldt, Magellanic, and Galápagos.
Q: Do they only live in Antarctica?
SW: Penguins are actually found on every continent below the equator, including some of the warmest and coldest places on the planet.
Q: Are they endangered?
SW: It depends on the species, but many are facing growing survival risks. The Galápagos, yellow-eyed, northern rockhopper, African and erect-crested penguins are endangered. Threats include habitat and nesting site loss, entanglement in fishing gear, overfishing of prey, and global climate change.
Q: What do penguins eat?
SW: Penguins dine on a diet of shrimp-like crustaceans called krill, as well as fishes and squids.
Q: How big do they get?
SW: Penguins come in many sizes - from big and small, they have them all. The emperor penguin stands at 3.7 ft. (1.1 m) and weighs 60 to 90 lb. (27 - 41 kg) - that's about the size of a small kid. The smallest is the fairy penguin, standing at just 16 in. (41 cm) and weighing about 2.2 lb. (1 kg). It's hard to believe, but penguins that lived in the past likely stood 5 to 5.9 ft. (1.5 - 1.8 m) tall and weighed about 200 to 300 lb. (90 to 135 kg). That's bigger than most people!