Penguins

World Penguin Day on 25th April coincides with the annual northern migration of Adelie penguins and celebrates these adorable flightless birds. Dive into this exhibition to discover just how amazing they are. They're so cute too!

Penguins
image by Ian Parker

Penguins are flightless seabirds that live almost exclusively below the equator (except when they reside in zoos or wildlife parks). An early reference to penguins in 1600 described them like this: “This Penguin hath the shape of a bird, but hath no wings, only two stumps in the place of wings.”

The word penguin may come from the Welsh words pen and gwyn meaning, “head” and “white”, or from the Latin word pinguis, which means “fat” or “oil” (one Germanic word for penguin is fettgans or “fat-goose”).

Some prehistoric penguin species were huge, as tall and heavy as an adult human. Today there are 18 species of penguins on the planet, the largest of which is the emperor penguin at 100 cm (39 in) in length and weighing from 22 to 45 kg (49 to 99 lb).

Sadly, more than half of the 18 penguin species are considered to be under threat by International Union for Conservation of Nature, due to climate change and loss of habit.

While they can’t fly and often look ungainly on land, penguins are excellent swimmers, thanks to their stiff and scaly flippers, webbed feet, and sleek shape. In fact, penguins spend about one half of their lives on land and the other half in the sea, diving to catch most of their prey (krill, squid, and crabs). Penguins can swim about 15 miles (24km) an hour, fast enough to leap out of the water like porpoises, or onto land like seals.

The black-and-white plumage of penguins, often likened to a white tie suit, is actually protective countershading that helps to fool predators like sharks, orcas, and leopard seals. Seen from above, a penguin’s black back blends into the dark ocean, while from below, the white stomach offers camouflage against light from the sky.