This January 20th, we celebrate Penguin Awareness Day! We can all agree that penguins are super cute and funny, but what you may not know is that of the 18 penguin species, 13 are classified as vulnerable*, near threatened* or endangered* like our beloved African Penguin (*IUCN red list).
1. Penguins have a GIANT ancestor!
Scientists found the fossils of a "colossus" or "mega" penguin species in the Antarctic Peninsula. They estimated that the massive bird would have been 2 metres tall (6.5 feet) and weighed a hefty 115 kilograms (250 pounds).
2. Penguins moult.
Penguins undergo a process called catastrophic moulting. Most birds replace their feathers gradually over the course of the year, while penguins have to go through this process all at once. Without feathers, they can’t swim and fish, so they fatten themselves up beforehand to survive the few weeks it takes to replace them.
3. Penguins plumage serves to camouflage.
A Penguin’s black and white plumage serves as camouflage while swimming. The black plumage on their back is hard to see from above, while the white belly looks like the sun reflecting off the surface of the water when seen from below. This disguises them from predators like leopard seals and helps them catch prey.
4. Penguins don’t really fear humans!
Probably because they have no land predators and aren't used to danger from animals on solid ground, penguins appear to have little fear of humans and will approach groups of people without hesitation.
5. Penguins can drink sea water.
Penguins are supposed to drink fresh water but their hunting style and diet in the ocean necessitates an adaptation. A gland located above their eye removes salt from the bloodstream and allows the excess sodium to comes out through the bill or by sneezing.