20 Adorable Penguin Facts You’ll Love

Written By Jill Taylor

Although many penguins live around the South Pole, far from human civilizations, they still get a warm reception from us. They’re loved worldwide for their distinctive appearance and cuteness but also for their intriguing characteristics. Here are 20 facts about these fascinating creatures that you’ll love.

Movie Stars

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Move over, Tom Cruise—penguins are a surprising Hollywood hit! Kids movies like Happy Feet and Madagascar have earned the birds legions of younger fans, but their big break came with 2005’s March of the Penguins. Variety discusses how this penguin-focused documentary grossed $127 million worldwide on release and is still influential today.

Penguins Were Around During the Dinosaur Era

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No one’s quite sure what wiped out the dinosaurs, but one thing’s certain: penguins survived the catastrophe. Ancient skeletons show that penguins have existed in one form or another for about 60 million years! Of course, they’ve evolved over the years, but penguins can still lay claim to an impressive family tree.

They’re Stay-at-Home Dads

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There’s no such thing as the penguin patriarchy—penguin dads are just as focused on childcare as their partners. Male emperor penguins are especially progressive. They help incubate fertilized eggs by balancing them on their feet, preventing them from getting too cold.

They’re Great at Tobogganing

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Penguins are great at walking and swimming, but their most iconic way of traveling is sliding across the ice on their stomachs. This action is called tobogganing, and it helps penguins get quickly from A to B. Some researchers even think that penguins toboggan for fun—we can see where they’re coming from!

They Give Tokens of Affection

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Humans might buy their significant other a diamond ring to demonstrate love, but some penguins prefer different precious stones. The Antarctic Gentoo penguins love to impress their girlfriends with pebbles, while king penguins are known to serenade their mates. Maybe chivalry isn’t dead after all.

Penguins Can Drink Seawater

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Good Housekeeping explains that penguins are happy to drink seawater thanks to a special gland in their heads. The supraorbital gland filters out salt from the seawater, which penguins can then excrete through their nostrils or bills.

Groups Are Called Waddles or Rafts

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What’s the difference between a penguin waddle and a penguin raft? The answer is simple: it all depends on what kind of terrain they’re navigating. Seaborne penguins are called rafts, while groups traveling on solid ground are known as waddles—probably because of their unusual walking style.

They Communicate by Calls

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Penguins have yet to invent mobile phones, but they can still stay in touch with one another when necessary. The birds learn to recognize one another’s unique calls, which can be used to find a friend even when hanging out with thousands of other near-identical penguins.

They’re Big Eaters

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Penguins vary in size (the largest stand over a meter tall, while so-called fairy penguins top out at just under 40 cm), but all have impressive appetites. Don’t let their cuteness fool you—penguins are carnivores that can eat up to two pounds of fish, squid, and crab per day in the summer.

They Sneeze

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If you’re planning an Antarctic expedition, remember to pack some tissues. Penguins sneeze to expel salt from their bodies, which protects them from the effects of dehydration. Admittedly, some experts don’t think it’s accurate to call this action ‘sneezing,’ but we can see the resemblance!

Young Penguins Are Very Independent

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Young penguins are famous for their adorable fluffiness, but there’s more to these baby birds than meets the eye. They’re known as nestlings or chicks and are not the type to live at home with their parents. In fact, they set off on their own just five months after being born.

They’re Social Animals

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Penguins are incredibly social animals. Some live in groups called colonies with hundreds of thousands of other penguins—the birds huddle together to stay warm during cold weather. They’re also reasonably friendly towards humans, although many penguins choose to keep a respectful distance for safety’s sake.

Their Feathers Keep Them Wam

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Huddling isn’t the only way for penguins to stay cozy. Their feathers are incredibly efficient for trapping warm air, which keeps penguins feeling toasty no matter the weather. Penguins are unusual in this respect—many cold-weather creatures have a layer of blubber, but penguins rely on feathers alone.

They’re Masters of Disguise

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Underwater predators struggle to spot swimming penguins due to their white stomachs, which get mistaken for sunlight. Penguins are also protected from aerial assaults—their black backs blend in with the ocean. However, their hiding skills aren’t entirely foolproof; the European Space Agency informs us that it’s possible to track large groups from space by scanning the ground for their poop!

Free Love in a Cold Climate

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They might live thousands of miles from San Francisco, but that doesn’t stop penguins from having a hippy streak. Indeed, many live in Antarctic open marriages, fooling around with other birds before returning home to a more permanent mate. Won’t someone think of the nestlings?

They Don’t Have Teeth

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Compared to humans, penguins are lucky—they’re never in danger of needing fillings. This isn’t because they always remember to brush their teeth but because they don’t have any. Instead, penguins’ throats have fleshy spikes that make it easy to guzzle up fish without posing a choking hazard.

Some Penguin Species Are Monogamous

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Socially conservative penguins have been known to mate for life, so not every penguin is a cold-weather Casanova. Indeed, Rockhopper and Gentoo penguins are more interested in monogamy than extramarital affairs—the path of true love is rarely smooth in the penguin community. However, some birds still live happily ever after.

Their Names Have Various Origins

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Penguins get their name because they resemble the great auk (Pinguinus impennis), a now-extinct flightless bird. However, one historical traveler called them strange geese, while the Antarctic Adélie species is named after the wife of a famous French explorer, Jules Dumont d’Urville. That’s one way to impress your other half!

They’re Not Only Found in Antarctica

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While primarily associated with the South Pole, penguins can be found throughout the Southern Hemisphere. Countries like Chile, New Zealand, and Australia are all home to penguin communities, while efforts are underway to reintroduce the iconic birds to Gibraltar, where they haven’t lived for around 50,000 years, says GBC News.

They’re Gold-Medal Swimmers

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When it comes to swimming, few birds can rival the penguin. They can stay submerged thanks to their dense skeletons; some can even plunge to depths of up to 1,850 feet. Penguins can also swim up to 22 mph—more than twice as fast as 23-time gold-medal Olympian Michael Phelps!

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