Penguin Appreciation Day

Who are the comedic stars of the bird world?  Penguins, of course!  Stars of the big screens, they wear tuxedos, wobble when they walk, and their feathers stick out of their heads like clowns.  Today is a good day to think about penguins—Penguin Appreciation Day!

The origin of Penguin Appreciation Day is lost in history, but that hasn’t slowed down the message:  Penguins may be adorable but they are also fascinating examples of adaptation to harsh environments.  So, here’s some information to help you appreciate them more.

All penguins live in the southern hemisphere.  Galapagos Penguins push that definition, living basically on the Equator.  At the tip of the globe, Emperor Penguins live deep in Antarctica, braving temperatures that can fall as low as -40 degrees Centigrade.   Penguins live everywhere in between these extremes and on all the continents of the southern oceans, including South America, Africa and Australia.

Chinstrap Penguin (photo by Andrew Shiva)

The number of penguin species is up for debate among scientists, but 16-19 species is the usual range, distributed among 6 genera.  As more DNA evidence comes in, some species get combined, others get split apart.   At the moment, a big question is whether the Royal Penguin is just a differently colored Macaroni Penguin.  And perhaps the Rockhopper Penguin is actually two or more species.

The largest is the Emperor Penguin, checking in at more than 40 inches tall and weighing as much as 80 pounds.  At the opposite end is the Little Penguin (also known as the Fairy Penguin), weighing less than 3 pounds and standing a diminutive 13 inches tall.

The most common penguin is the Macaroni species, distributed on islands throughout the southern oceans.  More than 11 million Macaroni Penguins exist.  The least common is the Galapagos Penguin—only a few thousand exist, and they are endangered, just as most other species are that live in the Galapagos Archipelago.

Today, all penguins are protected by the Antarctic Treaty, first signed in 1959.   The treaty prohibits harming penguins in any way, including hunting or collecting eggs.  Collection for scientific or conservation purposes is allowed only by special permit(learn more about the treaty here).

Penguins are fundamentally aquatic animals.  They spend most of their time in the water, feeding on invertebrates and small fish.  They generally stay near the surface, where their food also lives.  Their dives are typically short, no more than a minute or two. Penguins come ashore to molt and to reproduce, nesting on land or ice, often in large colonies.

a group of Little Penguins make their way ashore on Phillips Island, Australia (photo by phillipsislandtourism)

They are expert swimmers, using their adapted wings as flippers to “fly” through the water. Adele Penguins are the sprinters of the clan, reaching speeds of 20 miles per hour.  Unlike most birds, which have hollow bones that make flying easier, penguins have solid bones, which reduce their buoyancy and make diving easier.

But most of all, they are just plain cute!

References:

Penguinworld (website).  Available at:  http://www.penguinworld.com/index.php.  Accessed January 19, 2017.

SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment.  Animal information:  Penguin.  Available at:  https://seaworld.org/en/animal-info/animal-infobooks/penguin.  Accessed January 19, 2017.

This Month in Conservation

February 1
Afobaka Dam and Operation Gwamba (1964)
February 2
Groundhog Day
February 3
George Adamson, African Lion Rehabilitator, Born (1906)
February 4
Congress Overrides President Reagan’s Veto of Clean Water Act (1987)
February 5
National Wildlife Federation Created (1936)
February 6
Colin Murdoch, Inventor of the Tranquilizer Gun, Born (1929)
February 7
Karl August Mobius, Ecology Pioneer, Born (1825)
February 8
President Johnson Addresses Congress about Conservation (1965)
February 8
Lisa Perez Jackson, Environmental Leader, Born (1982)
February 9
U.S. Fish Commission Created (1871)
February 10
Frances Moore Lappe, author of Diet for a Small Planet, born (1944)
February 11
International Day of Women and Girls in Science
February 12
Judge Boldt Affirms Native American Fishing Rights (1974)
February 13
Thomas Malthus Born (1766)
February 14
Nature’s Faithful Lovers
February 15
Complete Human Genome Published (2001)
February 16
Kyoto Protocol, Controlling Greenhouse-Gas Emissions, Begins (2005)
February 16
Alvaro Uglade, Father of Costa Rica’s National Parks, Born (1946)
February 17
Sombath Somphone, Laotian Environmentalist, Born (1952)
February 17
R. A. Fischer, Statistician, Born (1890)
February 18
Julia Butterfly Hill, Tree-Sitter, Born (1974)
February 18
World Pangolin Day
February 19
Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial Established (1962)
February 20
Ansel Adams, Nature Photographer, Born (1902)
February 21
Carolina Parakeet Goes Extinct (1918)
February 22
Nile Day
February 23
Italy’s Largest Inland Oil Spill (2010)
February 24
Joseph Banks, British Botanist, Born (1743)
February 25
First Federal Timber Act Passed (1799)
February 26
Four National Parks Established (1917-1929)
February 27
International Polar Bear Day
February 28
Watson and Crick Discover The Double Helix (1953)
February 29
Nature’s Famous Leapers
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