Penguins are unique aquatic animals, considered to be birds even though they cannot fly. The best environment for penguins is the southern planisphere. Scientists have found some major penguins gathering in the continent of Antarctica. However, they can deal well with warmer climates too. You will read about penguins living in tropical islands as well.
Penguins are amazing creatures, and there are somewhere between seventeen and nineteen species in total. Most of them are black-and-white as portrayed in pop culture, while others are much more colorful, just like the crested penguin.
There come the more “royal ones”, with some yellow feathers crowns, as well as unique patterns around their neck.
Just so you know, the blue penguin is the smallest of them all, as it grows only up to twelve inches and does not weigh more than three pounds. On the opposite, the emperor penguin is the heaviest one, going up to ninety pounds.
Penguins’ Resources And Preferences
Penguins eat krill mostly, a shrimp-like crustacean, part of the Euphausiid family. But their menu includes other aquatic creatures, such as fishes and squids. Depending on the various species of penguins, the diet might change a little bit.
Each category has its food preferences, which is an advantage, considering the competition among species. While the smaller penguins prefer krill as primary feed and squid, the northern eat fish.
For instance, the Adélie penguins seek small krills, while chinstraps will forage for larger krills. The King penguins and Emperor ones eat mainly squids and fish.
The Food Intake Of Penguins
The food intake of penguins can vary, depending on the availability of food from different areas and the time of the year. However, on average, the entire population of penguins may consume around 1 million and a half kilograms of krill, and half a million kg of squid per year.
How Do Penguins Collect and Eat Food?
Penguins will mostly take their food from the sea. They are constantly looking for their prey within 15.3 to 18,3 m of the surface. Now, the location and depth can vary seasonally and sometimes even daily.
Penguins rely on their precise vision during the hunting process. It is incredible how they can locate their food in the night, the deepest darkness, and the greatest depths. Some scientists have discovered that penguins use bioluminescence (meaning the light they can produce) to find their fishes, oceanic squids, and crustaceans.
Penguins catch their prey by the bills they have. Moreover, they don’t need to stop eating their fresh food, but they swallow it whole while swimming. Did you know that penguins have spiny tongues and mighty jaws so they can grip tight even the slippery prey?
Galapagos penguins are even more particular, as they have been observed feeding themselves along with other fascinating creatures, including some seabirds and flightless cormorants. They can accept and share the food with blue-footed and masked boobies, as well as brown noddies, frigatebirds, or Audubon shearwaters.
Moreover, scientists who have made observations discovered that some pursuit-divers, like the Galapagos penguins, make a lot of effort to force their prey animals to stay close. In consequence, penguins increase the duration of these congregations.
Here are some facts and statistics about the different distances from the colony penguins will take to feed themselves:
- The hunting areas can range from 15 km from the colony to almost 900 km. Amazing, right? Some species of penguins, just like the Emperor ones, can even cover vast distances in a single foraging trip.
- On the other hand, Antarctic penguins will walk, swim, even toboggan into the ocean to rookeries. If they do not have a fishing ground or are far away, penguins will look for food in seal holes, while others can even make some ice openings.
What Penguins Usually Eat?
These animals are mainly carnivores. As such, they will have a piscivorous diet, which includes:
- Cephalopods of all kind
Penguins mostly consume vast amounts of krill. They need these aquatic creatures to live and thrive in their colonies. The best part of penguins’ food preferences is avoiding competition, as each type of penguin will prefer different food sources.
Most penguins are opportunistic feeders, meaning they will satisfy their hunger with various prey. Furthermore, they can adapt their feeding habits quickly, depending on the different times of the year and the other parts of their range.
Conspicuous Band Markings
Fish predators like penguins will be more likely to catch and chase individuals, although schooling fish can form dense aggregations to defend themselves. Like the genus Spheniscus, adult penguins will have at least one black stripe all around their bodies.
Scientists believe that this conspicuous mark will force all the individual prey fish to stay from the primary school, increasing the penguin’s hunting efficiency.
When it comes to some penguin species that lack these striping patterns, they are not that efficient in catching their prey, which supports the theory above.
Stone Swallowing Tactic
As odd as it might sound, scientists have found vast quantities of stone in the stomach of penguins. Stones have been found in the belly of contents like Gentoo, African, Magellenic, or yellow-eyed penguins.
Although some of these stones might have been swallowed only accidentally, some species of penguins have been spotted swallowing stones on purpose. Sometimes, they even eat lots of rocks, in great numbers indeed.
The theory claims that these stones are swallowed to reduce the afloat while penguins are diving. Another theory suggests that these animals eat rocks to alleviate the sensation of hunger.
Moreover, it is believed that rockhopper and macaroni chicks are swallowing stones to aid in the digestion of hard crustaceans, which, as we know, play an essential part in their diet. Although in perfect shape, the King Penguins were purposely eating stones during the breeding season.
These giant penguins would choose some stones that were approximately 10mm-30mm, then throw their head back to allow the stone to go into their stomach. Fact: the kings were eating somewhere around 24 rocks per minute, which is a lot.
Penguins go through periodic fasting days. Before fasting, penguins will build up a fat layer, providing enough energy to pass the fasting period. Here are some interesting facts about the fasting period:
- Penguins are fasting during annual molting periods. However, their fat layer will provide enough energy until the mold is over.
- During breeding seasons, penguins fast for long periods. During this time, they will not leave their nesting areas to feed. Some penguin species will fast through nesting, courtship, and incubation times.
- Chicks are fasting until they are strong enough to shed juvenile feathers. Sometimes, the parents will no longer feed their chicks during these fasting periods. Growth stops during the fasting period, but it resumes when the mold is finished.
It is essential to add that fasting depends on penguin species, the type of penguin, and their sex. King and Emperor penguins have the longest fasting periods.
- The King penguins, especially the male ones, can last for up to 54 days during courtship;
- The male emperor penguins can fast from 90 to 120 days during breeding and the whole incubation period.
Baby Penguins Food
During the breeding season, penguin colonies come together and form some rookeries. Male penguins take their role seriously and pick out a nesting site before the females are approached. While Emperor and King penguins will lay only one egg, other species leave two eggs.
Almost in all cases, both penguins, meaning the males and females, will hold the eggs where the temperature of their body is higher, mostly between their legs. This way, they are keeping the eggs all warm.
However, male emperor penguins will only care for a single egg and keep it in the fat folds of their feet. During this time, the females will go out and try to hunt for several weeks.
As soon as they are ready and the time has come, penguin chicks will use their beaks through the shell; the whole process of coming out from the eggshell can last up to three days. Once they come into this world, the penguin’s parents will feed them regurgitated food.
Penguins have a two-chambered stomach, which helps them store the food and offer it to their youngest members.
Moreover, the male penguins can produce a curd-like substance, which helps feed their babies. If the mother has not returned from the hunting activity, males offer this substance to the babies.
Like their parents, chicks will also pass through fasting periods until they can shed the juvenile feathers. When they fast, the chicks will no longer receive food from the adult penguins. Once they are three years old, the young penguins will be mature enough to mate.
Penguins love eating fish and crustaceans, but they can even pass through some severe fasting periods. The oddest meal of penguins are the stones; however, they have wise reasons to swallow them.