Frequently Asked Questions about Penguins
really are “birds of a different feather”. They
have a funny way of walking around on land, and an amazing way
of “flying” underwater. So naturally we get a lot
of questions about our gentoo and macaroni penguins. Here are
some answers to the most asked penguin questions.
Can penguins fly?
No. You might say penguins have flippers while most other birds
have flappers. Birds that spend most of their time in the air
need a lightweight and sturdy wing bone. Penguin wings are adapted
to propel them through water which is much denser than air. So
penguins have strong, heavy wing bones so they don’t have
to fight the tendency to bob back to the waters surface. Penguin
flippers provide power on the upstroke and the down stroke making
them “fly” through the water. ZOOM!
What kind of penguins will we see at the Tennessee Aquarium?
We have gentoo and macaroni penguins on display in Chattanooga.
“Penguins’ Rock” is the only gallery in the
region with these two species. Gentoos are the classic looking
black and white birds. Macaronis have a crest of yellow feathers
decorating their heads.
How big are the penguins at the Tennessee Aquarium?
Gentoo penguins are the 3rd largest penguins in the world. They
can grow to between 30 and 35 inches tall. Macaroni penguins are
the largest of the crested penguins with a standing height of
25 to 28 inches.
What’s the size range for penguins?
The tallest penguin species is the emperor which stands nearly
4 feet tall. The smallest is the little blue penguin which only
grows to a height of around 16 inches.
How many kinds of penguins are there?
There are 17 species of penguins in the world today. All of them
are found in the Southern Hemisphere
Have penguins ever lived in the Northern Hemisphere?
A relative to penguins, the Great Auk roamed the North Atlantic
from North America through Iceland, Norway, and Great Britain
during the 19th century. Auks had no natural predators and no
natural fear of humans. They were hunted on a large scale for
food, their eggs, and their downy feathers. Sadly the last pair
was killed in 1844, and the Great Auk became extinct.
Penguins look shiny, not fluffy like other birds. Do they have
You bet! In fact their tiny feathers are tightly packed on their
bodies. Penguins have 70 to 80 feathers per square inch. To see
how many feathers that really is; use a ruler to draw a one inch
box. Now try to draw 80 dots inside that box.
What is molting?
Molting is the annual process where penguins lose all of their
feathers in a short period of time. In some penguins, this happens
in as little as two weeks. They molt their old feathers and grow
new ones, usually right after breeding. This puts a tremendous
physical strain on the penguins’ bodies. Our veterinarian
says it would be like a human growing four feet of hair in two
I’ve heard there are cold and warm penguins. What does that
Cold climate penguins like our gentoo and macaroni species come
from the sub-Antarctic islands surrounding the South Pole. They
are adapted to cold weather conditions, and must live in a chilly
environment to stay healthy and happy. Warmer species like African
and Humbolt penguins are found in the wild from southern Africa
and South America, to islands nearly on the Equator.
What do penguins eat?
Penguins prefer a diet of fish, squid, and krill.
Krill are small shrimp-like creatures. Krill can be found in large
numbers in the chilly ocean waters where cold climate penguins
feast. Blue whales and some seals also find krill very tasty.
Krill may be small, but they play a huge role in the Antarctic
ecosystem as a food source.
Do polar bears eat penguins?
No. Polar bears live in the northern hemisphere in areas surrounding
the North Pole. Penguins live in the southern hemisphere mostly
in areas surrounding Antarctica and the South Pole. But adult
penguins must avoid being eaten by leopard seals, sharks, and
occasionally orcas. Younger penguins must avoid skuas, large gull-like
birds and giant petrels, another large seabird.
Do penguins mate for life?
Gentoos, like many penguin species, tend to pick one mate for
life. Some species like African penguins have a longer breeding
season and may not be as committed.
Do penguins lay more than one egg at a time?
Egg-laying varies among penguin species. Emperor penguins only
lay one egg at a time. Gentoo penguins usually lay two eggs. Macaroni
penguins usually lay two eggs, but the first is usually one half
the size of the second egg and rarely produces a chick.
How long must a penguin chick stay with its parents before it
can venture out on its own?
Macaroni parents care for their chicks for 60 to 65 days. Gentoos
care for their babies for 70 to 75 days. After this time period
the chicks of both species have grown their adult feathers and
are ready to head out into the world on their own.