Everybody loves a penguin, the kleptomaniac of the Antarctic. Antarctica’s most common bird aren’t birds of a feather, however, as 7 different species are considered “Antarctic penguins” of the 17 penguin species found throughout the world.
Of the 7 penguin species found in Antarctica, only 4 species are considered “true” Antarctic penguins as they breed on or near continental Antarctica: chinstrap penguin, emperor penguin, gentoo penguin, and the Adélie penguin. The other 3 species nest and live on Antarctic and sub-Antarctic islands: King penguin, Macaroni penguin, and the Rockhopper penguin.
Despite their variations, Antarctic penguins have some adaptations in common to survive the frigid conditions.
Penguin Waddle & Toboggan
While the penguin waddle may simply appear like a quirky, iconic gate, waddles from side to side is actually a big energy saver, conserving 80% more energy compared to a steadier walk. Penguins also “toboggan” on slippery surfaces, using their their claws and toes to push themselves forward on their stomachs. You wouldn’t be able to catch a penguin tobogganing by running.
Small penguins can bounce up out of rough waves onto rocky shores without being injured, a side-effect of being so small and blubbery.
Feet Up for Swimming
Penguins keep their feet tucked in close to their bodies when swimming to minimize drag, though they occasionally drop a foot like a rudder or a brake, helping them make quick turns in the water.
Preening isn’t Pretty
Well, ok—preening can make a bird pretty. But that’s not all it does! Penguins fluff our their feathers to collect air among them, especially before hopping in the water. Preening helps sustain insulation while also reduce drag in the water, as released bubbles lubricate the penguin’s passage through the water. It also helps the penguins gain a burst of speed to burst out of the water—a helpful tool for escaping predators.
Most penguins—besides emperor and king penguins—built nests to protect and incubate their eggs. The nests are constructed to rise above the landscape so that melting snow or other environmental changes will not flood the nests.
FUN FACT: Penguins often squabble over small stones used to nest, so kleptomaniac penguins often go around stealing nesting stones, re-claiming stones, and stealing them once again.