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Antarctic Penguins:
Well-Dressed Charmers

Spinning Yarn|Penguin lessonPhotogenic, inquisitive and comical, penguins are the consummate charmers of the Antarctic region. Penguins are rarely scared of man and their range of interpersonal skills is amazing: quite apart from their raucous chatter, they also communicate with each other by bobbing their heads, waving flippers, preening and grooming.

Penguins are the most common birds in the Antarctic, and are specially adapted for its cold environment. Along with seals and a few other birds, they come to the continent to breed, but do not live on the continent. Penguins come in from their winter home on the pack ice to nest on the rocky shores of the Antarctic Peninsula. The 17 species of penguins, only four breed on the Antarctic continent itself: the Adelie, the Emperor, the Chinstrap and the Gentoo penguins.

Penguins and seals have a compact body shape and thick skin to help keep in their body heat. Many penguins also have thick layers of fat for insulation (just like whales). Their bones are solid and heavy, which help them to remain submerged and reduce the energy needed for pursuit diving.

Penguins have very strong wing muscles and can paddle up to 25 mph. When underwater, emperor penguins are really fast, up to 60 km/h. Impressive and elegant in the water, by contrast penguins awkwardly waddle and hop once ashore, and sometimes even tummy-slide!

Penguins generally breed in large, dense colonies called 'rookeries', some with 180,000 or more birds. Most penguins build nests of stone and there they incubate one or two eggs. In addition to vocal signals, penguins have a variety of communication skills.
They spread over the ice but always remain near each other. Penguins mate only once a year, and it lasts less than 10 seconds.

Spinning Yarn|Penguin groupHow do penguins avoid predators like orca whales and leopard seals? When traveling quickly, penguins will leap clear of the water every few feet -- an action called 'porpoising'. Antarctic penguins have also developed the ability to leap out of the water to a substantial height on land, enabling them to quickly reach the safety of raised ice edges or rock ledges.

The millions of penguins fight a day to day battle with gulls, sea leopards and killer whales to survive, but are ignorant of the most ferocious predator of them all, they walk up to humans in curiosity and interest. Healthy adult penguins have no predators on land, so they have no natural fear of humans.

Krill are almost entirely responsible, directly or indirectly, for feeding the Antarctic’s millions of penguins, millions of seals, and thousands of whales. As the sea ice breaks up each spring numerous penguins, seals, and seabirds make their way to these few available landing sites for breeding. In addition to krill, penguins feed heavily on fish, squid, and other small crustaceans.

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Photo Courtesy
OTAGO DAILY TIMES, New Zealand

 

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