Shore Buddies Wisdom Wednesday
Photo by Justin Hofman
All 17 species of penguins are found exclusively in the Southern Hemisphere. Emperor Penguins are the tallest species, standing nearly 4 feet tall. The smallest is the Little Blue Penguin, which is only about 16 inches. The fastest penguin species can reach swimming speeds up to 22 mph. All but two species of penguins breed in large colonies of up to one thousand birds. Most penguins will mate with the same partner season after season, and most species are also loyal to their exact nesting site, often returning to the same rookery in which they were born. In some species, it is the male penguin which incubates the eggs while females leave to hunt for weeks at a time. Because of this, pudgy males—with enough fat storage to survive weeks without eating—are most desirable. If a female Emperor Penguin's baby dies, she will often "kidnap" an unrelated chick. Despite their lack of visible ears, penguins have excellent hearing and rely on distinct calls to identify their mates when returning to the crowded breeding grounds. Penguins ingest a lot of seawater while hunting for fish, but a special gland behind their eyes—the supraorbital gland—filters out the saltwater from their blood stream. Penguins excrete it through their beaks, or by sneezing. A penguin's striking coloring is a matter of camouflage; from above, its black back blends into the murky depths of the ocean. From below, its white belly is hidden against the bright surface. Fossils place the earliest penguin relative at some 60 million years ago, meaning an ancestor of the birds we see today survived the mass extinction of the dinosaurs. Because they aren't used to danger from animals on solid ground, wild penguins exhibit no particular fear of human tourists.