Friday, January 17, 2014

10 Things You Never Knew About Penguins

Jan 20 is Penguin Awareness Day, Green Monsters! Penguin Awareness Day has been designated as a time to honor, learn about, and appreciate these amazing creatures. To commemorate the occasion, we have put together this list of interesting penguin facts you may not have heard before, as well as some suggestions on how you can help them. Enjoy!

Aisling Maria Cronin
January 17, 2014

1. Penguins Were Once Able to Fly

As members of the bird kingdom who are unable to fly, penguins have always seemed a little unusual. However, researchers at Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) have found that at a certain point in their evolutionary journey, penguins could once fly. As penguins’ bodies became more adapted to the water, “getting off the ground eventually just took too much effort for birds that were becoming expert swimmers.” So, they effectively traded in their prior ability of flight for another, more useful one.

2. Their Swimming Style? It’s Called “The Porpoise”

Penguins are renowned for their swimming style of leaping in and out of the water in short, shallow arcs: a practice known as porpoising. Porpoising uses up a lot more energy than staying completely submerged beneath the water’s surface, but it does allow the penguin to breathe more regularly, while also disorientating both predators and prey. Penguins have also been known to porpoise out of sheer joy or excitement!

3. Emperor Penguins Can March Hundreds of Kilometers to Reach Their Breeding Sites

Emperor penguins are famous for their long and grueling marches that occur in March and April every year, where they can walk as far as 120 kilometers across the sea ice to their breeding sites. If you want to get a taste of what the experience is like for them, check out this six-minute YouTube video detailing their journey.

4. Emperor Penguins Go Against Conventional Male–Female Parenting Roles

In most animal species, it has been observed that the female stays in the nest to look after her offspring, while the father goes out to procure food. However, the Emperor penguin does things a little differently! According to Live Science, “the male penguin incubates his mate’s egg while she goes out to feed. And once the little chick hatches, the male penguin feeds it with milk that he produces in his esophagus.”

5. Most Live Exclusively in the Southern Hemisphere

The great majority of penguin species reside in the Southern Hemisphere all year round – with the notable exception of the Galápagos penguin, which is native to the Galápagos islands off the coast of Ecuador, and may occasionally cross into the Northern Hemisphere whilst feeding or nesting.

6. Many Penguin Species Are Endangered

Here’s a sad fact for you, Green Monsters: of the eighteen penguin species listed on the IUCN’s Red List of threatened and endangered animals, fifteen of them are considered to be under threat. Some, such as the Emperor penguin or Magellanic penguin, are “near threatened,” while the Galápagos and Yellow-Eyed penguin are “endangered.”

7. Penguins Are Colonial Birds

Colonial birds are defined as “bird species that nest and breed in close proximity as a group, often sharing communal behaviors for the benefit of the entire group.” Penguin colonies can consist of tens of thousands of birds, with the largest known colony on St Croix Island near Port Elizabeth, South Africa, numbering 50,000.

8. Their Eyes Work Just As Well Underwater As They Do Above Ground

A penguin’s eyesight is very sharp, and works just as well underwater as it does in the air. Because penguins eat a wide variety of undersea prey – including fish, krill, and molluscs – this trait enables them to find food more easily, even in dark, cloudy, or murky water.

9. Most Penguins Are Monogamous

The majority of penguin species are monogamous, often returning to the same partner during breeding season for several years in a row. In 2012, Argentinian researchers found that one particular pair of Magellanic penguins had remained faithful to one another for sixteen years, despite spending long periods apart, making them two of the most faithful lovebirds in the animal kingdom.

10. There Is Enormous Variation in Size Between Different Penguin Species

The emperor penguin is the largest penguin species in existence, with a height of up to four feet and a weight of eighty-eight pounds. The smallest known penguin species is the little blue, or fairy, penguin, who stands at just forty-five centimeters tall, and weighs two pounds.

How You Can Help Penguins Today

  • Share this article to help spread the news that penguins, just like humans, are multifaceted beings, with intriguing social, cultural, and even romantic lives that we may never have considered before.
  • Check out the New-Zealand based Yellow-Eyed Penguin Trust, which aims to conserve the endangered yellow-eyed penguin. You can find out more about their work here, and donate here.
  • Lend your support to the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Magellanic penguin conservation program. You can donate here, and find out more on how to be an active wildlife advocate here.
  • Take a look at the International Penguin Conservation Working Group (IPCWG). Their mission is “to promote penguin conservation worldwide, by drawing international attention to the threats facing penguin populations. The IPCWG also acts as a focus for individuals and organizations working with penguins, in order to share ideas and information, and to provide international support for local conservation issues.”
  • Sign this petition by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) urging the New York Stock Exchange to stop exhibiting SeaWorld penguins on the stock 

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