Tuesday, January 20, 2015

13 facts about penguins to mark #PenguinAppreciationDay

Who can resist the sight of a penguin, be it sheltering against the Antarctic weather with its colony, taking a graceful swim or looking cute as a fluffy chick.
With everyone celebrating Penguin Appreciation Day, what more of an excuse do we need to serve up a smattering of pictures and a bevy of facts about the birds.

1. Speedy swimmer

Don’t be fooled by the sedate poses of these Humboldt penguins in the water. Some penguins can swim as fast as 20mph.
That’s because they are aided by a process known as porpoising. Tiny bubbles of air coat their feathers reducing friction with the waters surface so they can power along.
They also have extremely powerful flippers and streamlined bodies which make them excellent swimmers. In fact, they are the fastest swimming and deepest diving species of any bird.

2. Penguin poo helps scientists find new colonies from space

That’s because penguin and seabird poo, actually called guano, has a unique spectral signature which can be identified from satellite imagery using infra red. Basically, if they can see a lot of staining, chances are something has been to the toilet, and that something, is a penguin.

3. There are 18 types of penguins in the world

Five of them are thought to be endangered and facing possible extinction unless strong conservation measures are taken, like the work of The Truell Charitable Foundation.

4. Meet the Adelie penguin

The Adelie penguin is one of the smallest and most widely found penguins on Antarctica. To recognise it quickly, check out the white ring around each eye. It can dive to 180 metres, but catches food closer to the surface. There’s thought to about five million left and listed as ‘near threatened’.

5. The Southern hemisphere rocks!

Well it does for penguins. We might have penguins in our John Lewis Christmas adverts and zoos, but really these birds are at home in the Southern Hemisphere.

6. When a penguin lives ‘up north’, it actually means….

There are penguins on the Galapagos Islands. The Galapagos penguin is the northernmost species, living around the equator. Not north at all.

7. African penguins

African penguins enjoy an average life expectancy of about 20 years in the wild. In general, penguins can live for anything between 15-20 years.

8. Happy at sea

Penguins spend about 60 per cent of their lives at sea. In fact, they spend so much time in the water, their eyesight is far superior beneath the surface than above in the air. They can even drink sea water.

9. Funny guys

We can’t help but smile at this picture of a Fiordland penguin. But they are another species which is listed as vulnerable.

10. Humboldt penguin chicks are really cute

This chick was born in a zoo (hence why it’s being handled), but in the wild, a Humboldt penguin can expect to live for about 20 years, living on a diet of herring, anchovies, and smelt. They are most likely to be found in South America, on the coast of Peru and Chile.

11. Tricky to count

We’ve already heard how poo has helped to spot new penguin colonies, but even before that, Very High Resolution satellites were used to count penguins. That’s how in 2012, British Antarctic Survey (BAS) researchers counted 595,000 birds, almost double previous estimates of between 270,000 and 350,000. But they are really sociable animals with some breeding colonies numbering in the tens of thousands.

12. Quick growth

Penguin chicks usually put on 10% of their body weight every day. Penguins can eat a variety of sealife, including krill, fish, shrimp and even squid.

13. Big and small

The largest penguin is the Emperor penguin, which can also stay underwater for 20 minutes, while the smallest is imaginatively-called Little Penguin or Little Blue Penguin. This little fellow is two weeks old, and was born at a Cincinnati Zoo, but Little Penguins are found in Australia and New Zealand. Adults stand just over 25cm and weigh about a kilo.


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