Every April 25th, penguin-lovers across the globe celebrate World Penguin Day. And, with their quirky personalities, unimaginable habitats and dapper good looks, it’s no wonder these adorable birds have earned their very own holiday. Read on for fascinating facts about one of the planet’s most beloved creatures.
1. Penguins have been around for a long time; the oldest fossil dates back 60 to 62 million years — just after the extinction of the dinosaurs. In fact, the discovery of this fossil has led credence to the theory that birds, including these ancient penguin ancestors, began to evolve while dinosaurs were still roaming the earth, not after their demise. Like their descendants, these birds waddled, couldn’t fly, and stayed close to the sea for their meals.
2. The largest penguin to ever roam the earth, the anthropornis, lived about 35 to 47 million years ago. And, boy, were they big: measuring in at about 6 feet tall and weighing 200 pounds, this ancient penguin lived in and around Antarctica and New Zealand.
3. Believe it or not, waddling is actually the quickest way for penguins to get around on land. With large bodies and feet, but short legs, waddling back-and-forth is the quickest, most energy efficient way for penguins to move. Where penguins really get moving is under the water — penguins are the fastest, and deepest diving birds on the planet.
4. Sure, there may be ice as far as the eye can see in Antarctica, but it doesn’t provide much in the way of fresh water. So what’s a thirsty penguin to do? Drink salt water! Sea penguins have a gland above their eyes that helps them expel all that salt through their sinuses. Yep, you got that right — penguins sneeze out salt.
5. Think Minnesota in January is rough? Ha! That’s practically tropical for the famed emperor penguins. These tough birds arguably endure the most brutal weather conditions of any creatures on the planet. During the winter, when the emperor penguins are breeding, temperatures in Antarctica can drop to a bone-chilling -40 Degrees F, with wind chills as low as -75 degrees F.
6. Of the 17-19 penguin species currently living on the planet, 13 are considered vulnerable or endangered. The most at risk is the Galapagos Penguin, the only species that will travel north of the equator. The population decreased dramatically in the 1980s due to el Nino; today, there are estimated to be under 2,000 birds remaining on the islands.
7. A 2008 study conducted by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) found that, if climate change continues at its current rate, roughly half of the world’s emperor penguins and 3/4 of the world’s Adelie Penguins could disappear. Unless drastic measures are taken, a rapidly warming climate will continue to melt the ice that the penguins’ call home. And it’s already happening — remember that colony of emperor penguins from March of the Penguins? Over half of the population has disappeared since filming.
There is one sliver of good news, however. Earlier this year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that it will consider adding the Emperor Penguin to its list of endangered species — which would add a number of protections to help preserve these precious animals.
Help a penguin out: Tell the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to give Emperor Penguins full protection under the Endangered Species Act. And sign the petition below to help protect penguins from the effects of climate change.