14 Fun Facts About the Penguins of Antarctica

The penguins are a big part of the wildlife in Antarctica, and here we tell you about them and their secrets - and how to meet them in person.

2 mins read

When we think of Antarctica we immediately picture penguins: whether cute little penguin families waddling over the ice or majestic penguins standing tall and proud, yellow markings on their heads and necks, their black feathers resembling a tailcoat. The latter describes the king penguin, the second largest of the various penguin species.

At a height of up to 1 metre, comparable with that of a kindergarten child, it belongs to the group of "great penguins" together with its even taller brother, the emperor penguin. Despite their rather grandiose, elegant looks, emperor penguins are in fact powerful, high-performance athletes: they can dive to depths of 300 metres while being submerged, hunting, for up to 9 minutes.

Penguin parents' secret of success: job sharing

Anyone lucky enough to come across emperor penguin babies in the Antarctic summer (when winter reigns in the northern hemisphere) will encounter the most charming little chicks in the entire animal kingdom – delightfully adorable with their silver-grey, fluffy down. After the egg is incubated for around 55 days with both birds alternating in shifts, they spend the first 30-40 days of their lives resting on their parents' feet in a protective abdominal fold.

One of the parents keeps the baby warm while the other looks for food, then they change over. But they have to do this quickly as the chicks can only be exposed to the Antarctic temperatures for a couple of seconds. After a few weeks, the little ones are ready to go it alone and spend their time in penguin kindergartens among other penguins of the same age, always huddled together to stay warm. King penguins live to be around 20 years old, although some are known to have reached the ripe age of 50 years.

You wish to encounter the kings of the Antarctic?

You can find them on the pack ice around the northern reaches of Antarctica, Prince Edward Islands, South Georgia and Falkland Islands as part of an expedition cruise to Antarctica with Hurtigruten.

Are penguins birds? Yes, they are! The answer is yes, penguins are birds - although they swim and cannot fly. One can say that the penguins belong to a zoological term called flightless seabirds. In common with other birds they have feathers and lay eggs. The penguins feathers are stiff and closely overlay each other to get a isolating layer, which traps air beneath it and provide insulation against cold weather and water. 

Types of penguins - how many are there? There are 17 total species of penguins, but the continent of Antarctica is home to only four breeding species of them. By far the most common is the chinstrap penguin (Pygoscelis antarctica), which owes its name to the narrow black band under its head. The second-most populated is the Adélie penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae), numbering approximately 2.3 million pairs in Antarctica.   Other penguin species on the continent include the emperor penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri) and the Gentoo penguin (pygoscelis papua). Three more species live and nest on the Antarctic and sub-Antarctic islands: the macaroni penguin (Eudyptes chrysolophus), the rockhopper penguin (Eudyptes crestatus), and the king penguin (Aptenodytes patagonica).

Where do penguins live? Since there are over 17 different species of penguins, they live scattered from each other. Penguins make their homes in different climates, depending on the type of penguin. All penguins live in the Southern Hemisphere – there are no penguins in the Arctic.

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