P is for Penguins.

I must admit from the onset that I have chosen this animal with a bias. The penguin may just be my favourite animal. Penguins are aquatic, flightless birds that live in the Southern Hemisphere. The origin of the word ‘penguin’ is also debated. Some believe it comes from the Welsh language: ‘Pen’ meaning head and ‘gwyn’ meaning white. This would mean a penguin is a ‘white-head’. The alternative theory is that it comes from the Latin word pinguis which means ‘fat’. This is supported by the Dutch where another name for a penguin is a ‘fat goose’. There is some debate over the amount of different species of penguin with most putting the figure between 16 and 20. The debate arises around whether or not the ‘White-flipper penguin’ is a separate species of it is part of the wider ‘Little Penguin’ species. Regardless, each penguin species is extremely adapted to their environment and therefore have different morphologies and behaviours.

However, one adaptation which is true for almost all penguins is that they are extremely well adapted to swimming in water. Their wings, which have become redundant over time, have been modified into flippers which help to propel the penguin in the water. Whilst swimming, penguins almost mirror the shape of a bird in flight and shows an incredible speed and agility. The penguins must swim in extremely cold waters (in fact, some of the coldest waters of the world – reaching – 2’C). One adaptation they have for the cold water is that they have a very smooth plumage. The plumage is able to trap a layer of air between their body and the sea and this allows for better insulation and the retention of heat. Without this, the penguin would likely suffer from hypothermia.

Another more ‘common’ adaptation for a penguin is the colour of their body. almost all penguins have a black back and black arms whilst their body is white. The back and arms are black because this is the colour that allows for best heat absorption and also allows penguins to see one another from a greater distance. On the other hand, their body is white because this allows them to camouflage themselves from predators. The main predators to the penguins  come from the water. Animals like the Leopard seal find it much harder to identify a penguin directly above themselves because their torso blends in with the ice and snow. This is why you’ll often see penguins face down on their bellies when trying to fend off an attack from a predator.

2/3 of all the birds in Antarctica are penguins. Some, like the Emperor Penguin (the tallest of all penguins) can grow up to around 4 feet tall. In the past, as ‘recent’ as 40 million years ago, some penguins roamed the continent that were over 5 feet 8′ tall; that’s taller than me! Some can weigh up to 90 lbs – whilst others, like the Little Blue Penguin can weigh as little as 2.2 lb (1kg!). The range in size and shape of penguins make them extremely successful in different types of habitat and have meant that penguins play a crucial role in many different ecological niches.

Penguins are also have a very diverse and quite astonishing sex life. One of the most interesting is that of the Emperor Penguin. Many consider the Emperor Penguin to be a model example of a species who mate with ‘soul-mates’; by this I mean that they only have one mate in their lifetime. However, this is not true. Whilst in a specific mating season an Emperor Penguin may remain faithful, over the course of their lifetime, over 85% of all Emperors ‘cheat’ on their partner with another one. Being ‘unfaithful’ in a relationship is not novel to the Emperor penguin. In fact, it is perhaps most clear in the Adélie penguin. Female Adélie penguins are responsible for making the nest for the young. To do this, they collect rocks and ensemble them together. In order for a male to entice a female into coitus, they must provide as big a rock as possible; the bigger the better. If the female is happy with the gift, they will then proceed to mate. However, during this process, if the female sees another male with a larger rock, they may leave the previous male ‘mid-act’ and engage in a relationship with the new male. In the case for Adélie penguins, bigger is better.

Penguins are extremely popular worldwide. They seem to be fearless of humans and are therefore extremely approachable. They have appeared in many books and films like Happy-Feet and Surf’s Up. My favourite penguin-based show is Pingu. Pingu is ironically best friends with a seal (Robby) who would more than likely eat Pingu at the first opportunity. The Penguin called Tux is used as the ‘mascot’ for Linux Programming. Of penguins, Entertainment Weekly said “Whether they were walking (March of the Penguins), dancing (Happy Feet), or hanging ten (Surf’s Up), these oddly adorable birds took flight at the box office all decade long.”

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The penguin I have decided to display as the cover photo is that of a Chinstrap Penguin. The Chinstrap Penguin is my favourite species as has the most majestic facial feature known to man!

 

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