What Makes These Feet So Happy? World Penguin Day 2017

Here at Kraken, we have a very special place in our hearts for the mighty penguin.  First described as “strange geese” by Italian scholar Antonio Pigafetta, these iconic animals are now considered marine sentinels.

Depending upon who you talk to, there are 17-19 species distinct species of penguin. Interestingly, there is still some debate over exactly how many species there are. This is because scientists think some populations are so isolated from each other, they may actually be different species. And sadly, most are in decline.

Penguin Species
Image: Fairman Studios

But what makes a penguin a penguin?

Well, these flightless birds are highly adapted for life at sea. In fact, most really only come to shore to breed. As opposed to the flying birds we’re probably more familiar with, penguins actually have solid bones. This is essential because, in a way, penguins need to fly through water, which is over 800 times denser than air at sea level, so those thick, solid bones come in handy!

Penguins also have short legs, set far back on the body. This produces the characteristic penguin waddle, but it also serves a very important purpose. In the water, those awkward legs are actually more hydrodynamic. By having a smoother, ovular outline, water flows around the bird and it can move more efficiently.

Penguin’s feathers are also highly adapted to the marine lifestyle. These birds have an outer layer of short, stiff feathers designed to keep the water out; and soft, downy feathers closer to the skin. This allows the penguins to maintain a layer of air close to the skin which is warmed by body heat and insulates them as they make deep dives in frigid oceans. Additionally, penguins have the ability to move each feather – they can actually expel the insulating air by contracting muscles just below the surface.


And we can’t forget that characteristic penguin tuxedo.

Penguin Tuxedo

The black and white pattern we associate with these iconic animals is actually a method of camouflage called countershading. Countershaded animals generally have a darkly-colored back and a light-colored front. When viewed from above, the dark color of their back blends into their darkly colored surroundings. But when viewed from below, their white stomach blends into the bright sky.

For more information and to celebrate World Penguin Day, check out these great charities studying penguin conservation and biology: Oceanites, Penguin Lifelines, and The Penguin Sentinels.

And check out the inaugural State Of Antarctic Penguins report – released today!

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