penguin facts

This post may contain affiliate links to our partners such as Chewy, Amazon, etc. These purchases help us further AZ Animals' mission of educating the world's species.

See all penguin pictures!

Penguins are one of the most popular animals on earth!

Tuxedo colors, adorable waddles and adorable faces make penguins one of the most beloved animals in the world. From the equatorial deserts of Africa to the Nordic steppes of Scandinavia, humans can't help but marvel at aquatic, flightless bipedal birds! Many people mistakenly think that penguins only live in the Arctic and Antarctic, but in fact, they live in the entire southern hemisphere. One species even nests near the equator. However, no one lives in or near the Arctic Circle.

Scientists have been debating the taxonomic and genetic links of penguins, but they all agree that at least 15 species currently inhabit the planet.


Fun and Fascinating Penguin Facts

  • In prehistoric times, human-sized penguins waddled across the planet. Anthropornis nordenskjoeldi stands 1.8 meters (5 feet 11 inches) tall and weighs 90 kilograms (200 pounds). The presence of big toothed whales and seals likely contributed to the extinction of giant penguins.
  • In 1948, a Florida man named Tony built himself a pair of 30-pound three-toed lead shoes and stomped on the beach at night, further confirming the fact that 15-foot penguins rule the waves at night myth. He did it for ten years, never got caught, and it wasn't until 40 years later that the hoax was exposed.
  • The penguin's black and white color scheme is defensive camouflage.
  • Although the Falklands are riddled with active mines, the group of islands has been turned into a makeshift nature reserve for penguins because the animals are too light to trigger the mines.
  • The oldest known penguin species in the fossil record is Waimanu manneringi , which lived 62 million years ago.

scientific name

Although the exact etymology of the word "penguin" is debated, the general scientific name is Spheniscidae .

© 472 × 599 pixels, file size: 32 KB, MIME type: image/jpeg – licensed

The common scientific name of penguins is Penguinidae . However, the exact etymology of the word "penguin" is still up for debate. The term first appeared in the 1700s as a synonym for the puffin, a now-extinct seabird that resembled but was not related to penguins in body color. Some believe this made-up synonym is derived from the French word "pingouin," which sailors used for the puffin.

The Oxford English Dictionary, American Heritage Dictionary and Merriam-Webster attribute the word to Welsh. They hypothesize that penguins are a mix of "pen" (Welsh for "head") and "gwyn" (Welsh for "white"), since the great auk first appeared on Whitehead Island in Newfoundland.

Other linguists believe penguin has a Latin root, linking it to the word "pinguis," which means "fat" or "oil." They attribute this theory to the Germanic word for penguin, "fettgans," which translates to "fat goose," and the Dutch word for animal, "vetgans," which also roughly translates to "fat goose."


Scientists believe penguins evolved from flying birds and are related to petrels such as petrels, albatrosses, loons and frigatebirds. As penguins adapt to their aquatic habitat and develop the ability to dive and swim, they lose their ability to fly. Waimanu manneringi from New Zealand is the earliest known species of penguin, existing during the Cretaceous period 60-65 million years ago.

Read more  black widow spider

Some researchers speculate that penguins are related to members of the penguin family because they resemble other seabirds such as puffins, cormorants and shavers. But this is seen more as convergent evolution, where groups of species evolve independently but similarly.

Emperor penguins
Emperor penguins are the largest members of the penguin order.

© Joey_Danuphol/

types of penguins

Aptenodytes (Great Penguins) Patagonian fish A. p. Patagonicus / A. p. Harry king penguin
Aptenodytes (Great Penguins) groin worm not any Emperor penguins
Pygoscelis (Brushtail Penguin) Cercoides not any adelie penguin
Pygoscelis (Brushtail Penguin) Antarctic fishtail not any Chinstrap Penguin, Ringed Penguin, Bearded Penguin, Stonecrack Penguin
Pygoscelis (Brushtail Penguin) Pygoscelis Papua not any gentoo penguin
Eudyptula (Little Penguin) Eucalyptus E-mail variability / E. m. algae

Little penguin taxonomy remains very fluid and controversial.

Little blue penguin, Little penguin, fairy penguin, Maori name: Kororā
Eudyptula (Little Penguin) new turtle Little penguin taxonomy remains very fluid and controversial. australian little penguin
Eudyptula (Little Penguin) Eucalyptus alba Little penguin taxonomy remains very fluid and controversial. white fin penguin
Spheniscus (banded penguin) Magellan Ivory Fish not any Magellanic penguin
Spheniscus (banded penguin) Humboldt buckthorn not any humboldt penguin
Spheniscus (banded penguin) Long-tailed cockroach not any galapagos penguins
Spheniscus (banded penguin) deep fish barracuda not any African Penguins, Cape Penguins, South African Penguins
megafauna monitor lizard not any Yellow-eyed Penguin, Hoiho, Tarakaka
Eudyptes (crested penguin) pachynose gator not any Fiordland Penguin, Fiordland Crested Penguin, New Zealand Crested Penguin, Maori name: Tawaki or Pokotiwha
Eudyptes (crested penguin) thick spiny lizard not any trap penguin
Eudyptes (crested penguin) Eudyptes sclateri not any erect crested penguin
Eudyptes (crested penguin) Eudyptes chrysocome coli chrysocome /

E. coli filholi – Oriental

southern rockhopper penguin
Eudyptes (crested penguin) long-tailed eucalyptus The eastern rockhopper is considered by some scientists to be a subspecies of the southern rockhopper, while others consider it its own species. Eastern rockhopper penguin
Eudyptes (crested penguin) Moseley turtle not any northern rockhopper penguin
Eudyptes (crested penguin) Eudyptes schlegeli (controversial) Some scientists consider the Eudyptes schlegeli penguin to be a subspecies of the macaroni penguin. Others disagree. royal penguin
Eudyptes (crested penguin) golden retriever Some scientists consider the Eudyptes schlegeli penguin to be a subspecies of the macaroni penguin. Others disagree. Macaroni Penguin

appearance and behavior


4 black and white king penguins walk side by side along the beach.
The term for the penguin's black-and-white tuxedo look is "anti-shadowing," a form of camouflage that confuses predators.


Penguins are animals with an iconic appearance: a black back and white front. The technical term for their shading is "counter-shading". This is an evolutionary advantage that serves as spectacular camouflage, as penguin predators have difficulty distinguishing white underbelly from reflective water surfaces. On land, black backs help penguins blend into the rocky terrain where many species nest and breed.

They may look sleek and tough, but penguins are covered in feathers, and their feathers serve two main purposes. First, it helps improve buoyancy and improves their agile swimming skills. Second, penguin feathers act as insulation, allowing the birds to withstand cold water and air temperatures.

Several penguin species have unique aesthetic appeal. Rockhoppers have fancy crowns and feathers on their heads. Chinstrap penguins have a white band around their chin area, while giant penguins have golden feathers adorning their necks and heads. Cape penguins have distinctive pink patches above their eyes, while little blue penguins have blue rather than jet-black plumage.

Every once in a while, penguins are born with light brown plumage instead of black. Known as Isabella penguins, they tend to have a short lifespan due to poor camouflage – but they're beautiful!

Read more  mastiff

Average size of penguin species

Patagonian fish 70 to 100 cm (28 to 39 inches) 9.3 to 18 kg (21 to 40 lbs)
groin worm 122 cm (48 in) 22 to 45 kg (49 to 99 lbs)
Cercoides 46 to 71 cm (18 to 28 inches) 3.6 to 6.0 kg (7.9 to 13.2 lbs)
Antarctic fishtail 68 to 76 cm (27 to 30 inches) 3.2 to 5.3 kg (7.1 to 11.7 lbs)
Pygoscelis Papua 51 to 90 cm (20 to 35 inches) 4.9 to 8.5 kg (11 to 19 lbs)
Eucalyptus 30 to 33 cm (12 to 13 inches) 1.5 kg (3.3 lbs)
new turtle 30 to 33 cm (12 to 13 inches) 1.5 kg (3.3 lbs)
Eucalyptus alba 30 cm (12 in) 1.5 kg (3.3 lbs)
Magellan Ivory Fish 61 to 76 cm (24 to 30 inches) 2.7 to 6.5 kg (6.0 to 14.3 lbs)
Humboldt buckthorn 56 to 70 cm (22 to 28 inches) 3.6 to 5.9 kg (8 to 13 lbs)
Long-tailed cockroach 49 cm (19 in) 2.5 kg (5.5 lbs)
deep fish barracuda 60 to 70 cm (24 to 28 inches) 2.2 to 3.5 kg (4.9 to 7.7 lbs)
monitor lizard 62 to 79 cm (24 to 31 inches) 3 to 8.5 kg (6.6 to 18.7 lbs)
pachynose gator 60 cm (24 in) 3.7 kg (8.2 lbs)
thick spiny lizard 50 to 70 cm (19.5 to 27.5 inches) 2.5 to 4 kg (5.5 to 8.8 lbs)
Eudyptes sclateri 50 to 70 cm (20 to 28 inches) 2.5 to 6 kg (5.5 to 13.2 lbs)
Eudyptes chrysocome 5 to 58 cm (18 to 23 inches) 2 to 4.5 kg (4.4 to 9.9 lbs)
long-tailed eucalyptus 45 to 55 cm (17.7 to 21.6 inches) 2.2 to 4.3 kg (4.9 to 9.4 lbs)
Chiton 65 to 76 cm (26 to 30 inches) 3 to 8 kg (6.6 to 17.6 lbs)
golden retriever 70 cm (28 in) 5.5 kg (12 lbs)


animals of antarctica
Penguins are social animals that live together in large groups called colonies.

© Sergey 402/

When standing upright on land, penguins use their tails and wings for balance. If time is tight, penguins will slide on their stomachs, using their feet to propel and steer. The technique is called "tobogganing". Penguins are also skilled jumpers, and do so when traversing prickly terrain.

Penguins are very social animals and they gather in small groups called colonies. As such, they develop vocal and visual communication skills and standards. Adult male penguins are "roosters" and females are "hens". A group of penguins on land is called a "waddle"; a group in water is a "raft".


Wild penguins live almost exclusively in the southern hemisphere, with the exception of banded penguins, which live near the equator and sometimes migrate to the northern hemisphere. There are large populations in Angola, Antarctica, Argentina, Australia, Chile, Namibia, New Zealand, South Africa and the Falkland Islands. In addition, penguins in captivity live in zoos and animal sanctuaries around the world.

The table below details specific habitat areas for different penguin species.

Major distributions of penguin species around the world

Patagonian fish king penguin islands in the south atlantic and south indian oceans
groin worm Emperor penguins Islands in Antarctic and Sub-Antarctic Regions
Cercoides adelie penguin Antarctica, Southern Ocean
Antarctic fishtail chinstrap penguin Islands in the South Pacific and Antarctic Seas
Pygoscelis Papua gentoo penguin Islands of the Antarctic Region, Falkland Islands, South Georgia
Eucalyptus little blue penguin New Zealand, Chile, South Africa
new turtle australian little penguin Australia
Eucalyptus alba white fin penguin Banks Peninsula, Motunau Island
Magellan Ivory Fish Magellanic penguins Argentina, Chile, Falkland Islands
Humboldt buckthorn humboldt penguin Pinguino de Humboldt National Reserve, Chile, Northern Peru
Long-tailed cockroach galapagos penguins Colon Islands
deep fish barracuda cape penguin south west africa coast
monitor lizard yellow eyed penguin new zealand coast and islands
pachynose gator fjord penguins Southwest coast of New Zealand and surrounding islands
thick spiny lizard trap penguin Trap Islands
Eudyptes sclateri erect crested penguin Bounty and Antipodes
Eudyptes chrysocome southern rockhopper penguin Subantarctic in the Western Pacific and Indian Oceans
long-tailed eucalyptus Eastern rockhopper penguin Prince Edward Island, Crozet, Kerguelen, Heard, Macquarie, Campbell, Auckland and the Antipodes Islands
Moseley turtle northern rockhopper penguin Tristan da Cunha, Inaccessible Island, Gough Island
Eudyptes schlegeli (controversial) royal penguin Subantarctic Islands, Macquarie Island
golden retriever Macaroni Penguin Subantarctic and islands of the Antarctic Peninsula


what do penguins eat
Penguins eat mostly fish, but also other seafood such as crustaceans and krill.


All penguins are carnivores that feed on marine life. They are Pescatarians! However, specific diets vary by region. The table below details the general menu for each animal.

Read more  Fox Predators: What Eats Foxes?

What do the different species of penguins eat

Patagonian fish king penguin Lantern fish, squid, krill
groin worm Emperor penguins Fish, Crustaceans, Cephalopods, Antarctic Silverfish, Glacier Squid, Hook Squid, Antarctic Krill
Cercoides adelie penguin Antarctic krill, ice krill, Antarctic whitebait, sea krill, glacier squid
Antarctic fishtail chinstrap penguin Small fish, krill, shrimp, squid
Pygoscelis Papua gentoo penguin Fish, krill, squat lobster, squid
Eucalyptus little blue penguin clupeoid fish, cephalopod, crustacean, arrow squid, elongated sprat, Graham's gudgeon, red cod, ahuru, barracouta, anchovies, arrow squid
new turtle australian little penguin Sardines, anchovies, cephalopods, crustaceans
Eucalyptus alba white fin penguin Little is known about white-tip penguins, including dietary details.
Magellan Ivory Fish Magellanic penguin Cuttlefish, squid, krill
Humboldt buckthorn humboldt penguin Krill, small crustaceans, squid, fish
Long-tailed cockroach galapagos penguins Small fish, mullet, sardines
deep fish barracuda cape penguin Sardines, anchovies, squid, small crustaceans
monitor lizard yellow eyed penguin Blue cod, red cod, opalfish, New Zealand blueback sprat, arrow squid
pachynose gator fjord penguins Arrow squid, krill, red cod, hoki
thick spiny lizard trap penguin Krill, small fish, cephalopods
Eudyptes sclateri erect crested penguin Small fish, krill, squid
Eudyptes chrysocome southern rockhopper penguin Krill, squid, octopus, lanternfish, molluscs, plankton, cuttlefish, crustaceans
long-tailed eucalyptus Eastern rockhopper penguin Small fish, octopus, squid, and krill-like crustaceans
Moseley turtle northern rockhopper penguin Krill, Crustaceans, Squid, Octopus, Fish
Eudyptes schlegeli (controversial) royal penguin krill, fish, squid
golden retriever Macaroni Penguin Krill, Crustaceans, Cephalopods

Predators and Threats

The most ferocious animals - leopard seals
Leopard seals are one of the penguin's natural enemies.

© Mogens Trolle/

Climate change poses a huge threat to several penguin species, and marine conservationists are racing against time to develop solutions. Natural predators of penguins include leopard seals, sharks, killer whales, fur seals and sea lions.

Reproduction, Babies and Longevity


Jaw penguin - Pygoscelis antarctica - penguin with jaw marker looking at camera
Penguins breed in large colonies of 100 to hundreds of thousands of pairs.

Penguins breed on ice or rocky outcrops. With the exception of yellow-eyed and fjord penguins, all penguins breed in large colonies, ranging from 100 to hundreds of thousands of pairs, such as chinstrap, king and macaroni penguins.

Penguins remain monogamous during the breeding season, but Chinstrap Penguins usually mate for life! Most pairs lay two eggs per clutch. The larger penguins, aka the "great penguins," only have one. Most species produce only one brood each mating season, but little penguins may have several broods.

Their eggs are small relative to the size of an adult penguin. However, the shell is very thick to withstand rough terrain. Interestingly, when Aptenodytes forsteri (emperor penguins) lose an egg or a chick, they try to kidnap the offspring of the other pair. Penguin snatches are rarely successful, but that doesn't stop them from trying!

Aptenodytes forsteri males handle all hatching tasks. Both parents share responsibility for the rest of the species. Incubation shifts can last days or weeks while one of the parents is out foraging.


Little penguins are called "chicks" or "chicks". When they are gathered together, it is called "crèches". Newborn penguins depend on their parents until they develop waterproof feathers. For some species, this may be as little as seven to nine weeks. For other species, it may be as long as 13 months.


Penguins can live anywhere from 6 to 26 years.

© Hewlett

Penguin life expectancy depends on the species, but varies from 6 to 26 years.

Average Lifespan of Penguin Species

Patagonian fish king penguin 26 years
groin worm Emperor penguins 20 years
Cercoides adelie penguin 20 years
Antarctic fishtail chinstrap penguin 15 to 20 years old
Pygoscelis Papua gentoo penguin 13 years
Eucalyptus little blue penguin 6 years
new turtle australian little penguin 7 years
Eucalyptus alba white fin penguin 15 to 20 years old
Magellan Ivory Fish Magellanic penguin 30 years
Humboldt buckthorn humboldt penguin 15 to 20 years old
Long-tailed cockroach galapagos penguins 15 to 20 years old
deep fish barracuda cape penguin 10 to 27 years old
monitor lizard yellow eyed penguin 23 years
pachynose gator fjord penguins 10 to 20 years
thick spiny lizard trap penguin 11 years
Eudyptes sclateri erect crested penguin 15 to 20 years old
Eudyptes chrysocome southern rockhopper penguin 10 years
long-tailed eucalyptus Eastern rockhopper penguin 10 years
Moseley turtle northern rockhopper penguin 10 years
Eudyptes schlegeli (controversial) royal penguin 15 to 20 years old
golden retriever Macaroni Penguin 8 to 15 years old


Some penguin species are stable. However, climate change and human encroachment are pushing other species to the brink of extinction. Below is a summary of penguin population estimates and conservation status according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Population estimates and conservation status

Patagonian fish king penguin 2.2 to 3.2 million breeding pairs least concerned (IUCN)
groin worm Emperor penguins 130,000 to 250,000 breeding pairs Near Threatened (IUCN)
Cercoides adelie penguin 4.5 million breeding pairs least concerned (IUCN)
Antarctic fishtail chinstrap penguin 7.5 million breeding pairs least concerned (IUCN)
Pygoscelis Papua gentoo penguin 387,000 breeding pairs least concerned (IUCN)
Eucalyptus little blue penguin 350,000 to 600,000 individual animals least concerned (IUCN)
new turtle australian little penguin 350,000 to 600,000 individual animals least concerned (IUCN)
Eucalyptus alba white fin penguin 3,750 breeding pairs Threatened (ESA)
Magellan Ivory Fish Magellanic penguins 1.3 million breeding pairs Near Threatened (IUCN)
Humboldt buckthorn humboldt penguin 32,000 adults Vulnerable (IUCN)
Long-tailed cockroach galapagos penguins Fewer than 1,000 breeding pairs Endangered (IUCN)
deep fish barracuda cape penguin Fewer than 40,000 adults Endangered (IUCN)
monitor lizard yellow eyed penguin 4,000 adults Endangered (IUCN)
pachynose gator fjord penguins 3,000 breeding pairs Vulnerable (IUCN) / Endangered (DOC)
thick spiny lizard trap penguin 25,000 breeding pairs Vulnerable (IUCN)
Eudyptes sclateri erect crested penguin 150,000 adults Endangered (IUCN)
Eudyptes chrysocome southern rockhopper penguin 1.5 million pairs (for all rockhopper penguins) Vulnerable (IUCN)
long-tailed eucalyptus Eastern rockhopper penguin 1.5 million pairs (for all rockhopper penguins) Vulnerable (IUCN)
Moseley turtle northern rockhopper penguin Between 100,000 and 499,999 breeding pairs are found on Goff Island, between 18,000 and 27,000 on Inaxé Island, and between 3,200 and 4,500 on Tristan da Cunha Endangered (IUCN)
Eudyptes schlegeli (controversial) royal penguin 1.5 million pairs (for all rockhopper penguins) Near Threatened (IUCN)
golden retriever Macaroni Penguin 18 million people Vulnerable (IUCN)

See all 187 animals starting with P

about the author

Abby Parks is the author of novels, plays, short stories, poems and lyrics. She has recorded two albums of her original songs and is a multi-instrumentalist. She manages a folk music website and writes about singer-songwriters, folk bands, and other music-related articles. She is also a radio DJ for folk music shows. As well as being a pet parent to rabbits, birds, dogs and cats, Abby enjoys hunting for animals in the wild and has witnessed some of the more exotic ones such as Puffins in the Farne Islands, Puffins in Chiloe Southern Pudu (Chile), penguins in the wild, and countless wildlife of the Rocky Mountains (bighorn sheep, goats, moose, elk, marmots, beavers).

Penguin FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

penguin vs puffin

Penguins and puffins are similar in coloration, but there are important differences between the two birds. Penguins are much larger, with emperor penguins weighing up to 100 pounds, and puffins weighing a fraction of that. Due to their smaller size, puffins can fly, while penguins are flightless and have adapted to become excellent swimmers.

Are penguins herbivores, carnivores or omnivores?

Penguins are carnivorous and feed on a variety of seafood including squid, krill, fish and crustaceans.

Why can't penguins fly?

Although penguins have wings, they cannot fly, unlike most other birds. However, their wings still serve a lot of purposes, as they have evolved to help penguins swim! In a way, they just fly underwater.

Why do penguins wobble?

As an observer, seeing penguins wobble might not seem like a very efficient way to move, but it's actually a good use of their short legs and big feet – a way they evolved for swimming . By rocking back and forth and using gravity, penguins are able to move without wasting unnecessary energy.

Are penguins dangerous?

Generally speaking, penguins are not afraid of humans. Nor will they engage in aggressive behavior. However, penguins are usually kept no more than 3 meters (9 feet) from people, and humans should respect their space.

Lala's story is a testament to the penguin's affinity for people. Finding Lala entangled in fishing nets, with her beak and wings broken, Lala finds temporary salvation on a rescue boat. After returning home, the fisherman gave Lala to the nearby animal doctor Nishimoto's family, and they built a cold room for him to restore him to health! Lara became so attached to the family that he didn't want to leave. So, Lala accompanied her family to the fish market every day. Soon, he started his own actions and dutifully returned to his cold palace! In no time, everyone in town is meeting the popular penguin, and Lala starts running errands for the family in a specially designed backpack!

While penguins are docile animals, it is always wise to keep your distance unless a trained keeper is nearby.

What are some interesting facts about penguins?

  • It's not uncommon for penguins to form same-sex couples.
  • Magellanic penguins have a special salt-scavenging gland that allows them to drink as much seawater as they want without ill effects.
  • Macaroni penguins consume more sea animals than any other seabird.
  • Penguins spend between 50% and 75% of their time in the water, depending on the species.
  • The nephew of French ruler Napoleon Bonaparte was instrumental in outlining penguin taxonomy.

To which kingdom do penguins belong?

Penguins belong to the animal kingdom.

What phylum do penguins belong to?

Penguins belong to the phylum Chordate.

Which category do penguins belong to?

Penguins belong to the class of birds.

What family do penguins belong to?

Penguins belong to the penguin family.

What order do penguins belong to?

Penguins belong to the butterfly order.

What type of mulch do penguins have?

Penguins are covered with feathers.

What type of habitat do penguins live in?

Penguins live in icy oceans and rocky lands.

What is the main prey of penguins?

Penguins prey on fish, crabs and squid.

What are the distinctive features of penguins?

Penguins have short, pointed beaks and slightly webbed feet.

What are the natural enemies of penguins?

Penguin predators include leopard seals, sharks and killer whales.

What is the average clutch size for a Penguin?

Penguins usually lay 1 egg.

What is the scientific name of the penguin?

The scientific name of the penguin is Aptenodytes Forsteri.

What is the lifespan of a penguin?

Penguins can live 20 to 30 years.

What is the wingspan of a penguin?

Penguins have a wingspan of 60 cm to 130 cm.

How do penguins give birth?

Penguins lay eggs.

What's the Difference Between Leopard Seals and Penguins?

Differences between leopard seals and penguins include size, appearance, habitat, diet, lifespan, and interaction with humans.

Thanks for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the editorial team.

  1. David Burnie, Dorling Kindersley (2011) Animals, The Definitive Visual Guide to the World's Wildlife
  2. Tom Jackson, Lorenz Books (2007) Encyclopedia of World Animals
  3. David Burney, Kingfisher (2011) The Animal Encyclopedia of Kingfishers
  4. Richard Mackay, University of California Press (2009) Atlas of Threatened Species
  5. David Burnie, Dorling Kindersley (2008) Illustrated Animal Encyclopedia
  6. Dorling Kindersley (2006) Dorling Kindersley Animal Encyclopedia
  7. Christopher Perrins, Oxford University Press (2009) Encyclopedia of Birds