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.

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 Fairy 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

September 1
Martha, the last Passenger Pigeon, Died (1914)
September 2
President Roosevelt Dedicated Great Smoky National Park (1940)
September 3
Wilderness Act passed (1964)
September 4
Fort Bragg, Home of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, Established (1918)
September 5
UNESCO Established First World Heritage Sites (1978)
September 6
Alcide d’Orbigny, French Naturalist, Born (1802)
September 7
Edward Birge, Father of Limnology, born (1851)
September 8
UN Millennium Declaration ratified (2000)
September 9
First “Bug” Found in Computer (1945)
September 10
Henry Hardtner, Father of Southern Forestry, Born (1870)
September 11
World Wildlife Fund Began Operations (1961)
September 12
Canyonlands National Park Established (1964)
September 13
Walter Reed born (1851)
September 14
Marc Reisner, Author of Cadillac Desert (1948)
September 15
Darwin reaches the Galapagos Islands (1835)
September 16
Ed Begley Jr., Environmental Advocate, born (1949)
September 17
Edgar Wayburn, Wilderness Advocate, Born (1906)
September 18
Grey Owl, Pioneering Conservationist in Canada, Born (1888)
September 19
Urmas Tartes, Estonian Nature Photographer, born (1963)
September 20
AAAS Founded (1848)
September 21
Assateague Island National Seashore Created (1965)
September 22
Peace Corps becomes law (1961)
September 23
Rose Selected as U.S. National Flower (1986)
September 24
President Kennedy Dedicated Pinchot Institute (1963)
September 25
Pope Francis Addressed the UN on the Environment (2015)
September 26
Johnny Appleseed Born (1774)
September 27
“Silent Spring” Published (1962)
September 28
National Public Lands Day
September 29
Steinhart Aquarium opens (1923)
September 30
Hoover Dam Dedicated (1935)
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