18th January 2023

Penguins are remarkable birds, so we wanted to shine a spotlight on them to highlight their incredible individuality and physiology! Here's five amazing facts about them:

  • Penguins only live in the Southern Hemisphere!    

Many people immediately think of Antarctica or vast icy glacial environments when they imagine penguins, yet only two species of penguin - the Adelie and the Emperor penguin - actually live and breed primarily in that area. Many other species such as Macaroni penguins, breed in the Antarctic peninsula as well as other locations such as Chile, Falkland Islands and South Orkney Islands. In the wild, many species of penguin are adapted to live across a range of landscapes, including Australia, South America, South Africa and New Zealand. There are 18 species of penguin!

  • Penguin’s black and white “tuxedo” coats help them to survive!      

Penguins are mostly black with a white belly, giving them the appearance of wearing a tux! This is because they have evolved to blend into their surroundings perfectly! The black actually helps them to avoid predators spying them from above in the dark depths of the ocean, and their white underbelly blends into the brighter skies above! The perfect camouflage! And super smart of course….

  • Penguins love their family and friends!

Penguins live in large colonies and are considered highly social birds. They also mate for life in many instances, however due to the nature of their natural lives, mating pairs must part for months on end to find food. One study of Macaroni penguins in The Falkland Islands found that couples, on average, only spend 23% of the year together!

  • Penguins are often viewed as “clumsy” on land, but their elegance in the sea is undeniable!        

Penguins spend up to 70% of their time underwater, and use some clever techniques to move through the ocean at speed, such as “porpoising”. Emperor penguins even use a “bubble-power” method which helps power them through their journey even faster! On land, many species of penguin exhibit a skill called “tobogganing” to glide over the ice.

  • Humboldt penguins are the species most typically found in captivity.

Humboldt penguins are perfectly adapted for the wilds of Chile and Peru, yet sadly, they are also the species most often confined in captive environments, and are bred regularly in zoos due to their hardy nature leaving them more vulnerable to exploitation. These beautiful birds are often forced to perform tricks and other stressful and unnatural acts in the name of human entertainment. At Edinburgh Zoo, a regular “penguin parade” is even forced upon the King and Gentoo penguins kept there. Captive penguins are also more prone to disease, such as pododermatitis and even avian flu, due to the unnatural environments and climates they endure leaving them more susceptible. Sadly, 8 birds have died at Marwell Zoo so far since the outbreak of the disease reached the area. 

FUN FACT: The world’s smallest penguin is the Blue penguin, also known as the Little penguin or Fairy penguin. They measure at a miniscule 35-43cm tall! The tallest penguin is the Emperor penguin who can be up to 1.14m tall!


- 18th January 2023