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Penguins

On the volcanic island of Bartolomé in the Galapagos Islands, the local penguins court by grooming each other. They also take...Read More >>On the volcanic island of Bartolomé in the Galapagos Islands, the local penguins court by grooming each other. They also take part in “bill duelling”, shaking their heads from side to side and knocking the tips of their beaks together. Penguins are flightless birds from the southern hemisphere—there are no penguins in the Arctic. There are 17 species of penguin. Some species live on cold, southern coastlines, such as Antarctica, but several live in temperate lands and one, the Galapagos penguin, lives close to the equator. Clumsy on land—they either waddle or "toboggan" on their bellies over the ice—in the water penguins are graceful and fast. Their stiff, flipper-like wings pull them through the water at speed in pursuit of fish and squid. Penguins can stay underwater for over seven minutes, but shorter dives are more usual. They usually eat fish they catch head first: they are much easier to swallow that way. They breed on land, forming large nesting colonies.


Royal penguin rookery (colony) on Macquarie Island, Southern Ocean
Gentoo penguin, Antarctica and Southern Ocean islands, up to 90 cm (3 ft) tall

Keeping warm

To keep warm in icy waters, penguins have several layers of dense feathers, and a thick layer of fat under their skins. Penguins can have up to 30,000 feathers—much more than other birds. A base layer of down feathers traps air to keep the birds warm. Above this is a layer of smooth, stiff feathers. Penguins keep these feathers waterproof by coating them with a layer of oil, secreted from a gland on the tail.
Penguins have a special circulatory system that stops their feet from freezing when they stand on ice. Their circulatory system traps heat inside the blood vessels, preventing heat from being lost through the skin.
 
 

If penguins escape their natural predators, they can live for up to 20 years.

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