'Give us a kiss, it's World Penguin Day!'
It’s World Penguin Day today, April 25th, and I simply can’t imagine a world that didn’t have penguins in it. So in order to celebrate our funny fine-flippered friends I thought it would be good to pull together some fun facts about penguins. Some are fun, some are facts, and some are both at once.
All wild penguins live in the Southern Hempishere, and although they are synonymous with the ice, only two species live on the continent of Antarctica. The Galapagos penguin is the only penguin that ever naturally ventures into the Northern Hemisphere on especially long feeding trips.
The first bird actually called a ‘penguin’ was the now-extinct Great Auk found in the North Atlantic. Bizarrely all the birds we know now as ‘penguins’ were named after those birds that were familiar to explorers, on account of us having killed them all…
Fossil evidence shows that penguins evolved before the dinosaurs died out, and there are remains of giant, people-sized, prehistoric penguins.
In comparison, the world’s smallest penguins are the Little Blue penguins. They are just over 30cm high on their flippers. (Yes, you’re thinking you could fit one in your bag, and keep it in your bath, aren’t you…?)
Despite having brands of books and biscuits named after them, penguins show little interest in literature and are confounded by biscuit wrappers because they lack opposable thumbs.
To move fast through the water, penguins use a technique called ‘porpoising’. To move quickly over the ice, they switch to ‘tobogganning’. Curiously, porpoises neither use toboggans nor do they use the word ‘penguin’ as a verb.
Scientists have discovered that emperor penguins, the largest species, use a special bubble-power go-faster technology to increase their speed under water.
Penguins have been immortalised on the big and small screens: singing with Mary Poppins, plotting against Batman, stealing the Muppet Show’s show, protecting the oceans with the Octonauts, and being a criminal mastermind in Wallace & Gromit. However it is the Happy Feet penguins who have the best fictitious claim to fame having used the medium of dance to get the United Nations to protect the entire Southern Ocean*.
Penguins at London and Edinburgh Zoos only eat sustainably-sourced fish. They’re very picky and eco-conscious, you know.
Adelie penguins love rocks. They use them to make nests and they are in short supply – so what to do to get more rocks? Well the shocking truth is that female Adelie penguins think nothing of offering sex to neighbouring males in exchange for a pebble. Pebble promiscuity is just the tip of the iceberg though. Early scientists in Antarctica deemed the sexual shenanigans of these
cute birds too shocking for the public to know about.
Penguin poo can be incredibly useful. Not only is it sometimes visible from space, but projectile pooing can be a handy way of deterring predators, or making a social comment. Penguins who had been the star attractions at Edinburgh Zoo for over a century had their beaks put out of joint when pandas arrived there recently. Some of them resorted to a dirty protest aimed at the queues of panda visitors.
*Despite the best efforts of the Happy Feet penguins, the Southern Ocean is not yet protected. That’s why we are working with the Antarctic Oceans Alliance, and lobbying governments to come together to protect areas like the Ross Sea, which are vital for many penguins. You can also help us, and the penguins, by signing our petition asking world leaders to support ocean sanctuaries at the United Nations - and by sharing this blog!
Check out #PenguinDay on Twitter. Penguins don’t tweet, but you can.
Willie Mackenzie is a the Programme advisor with Greenpeace UK's Biodiversity team.