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Penguin facts for kids

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Temporal range: Palaeocene–Recent
Gentoo penguin, Pygoscelis papua
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Sphenisciformes
Family: Spheniscidae
Bonaparte, 1831

Penguins are sea-birds in the family Spheniscidae. They use their wings to 'fly' underwater, but they cannot fly in the air. They are sea birds which eat fish and other sea food.

Penguins live only in the Southern Hemisphere of the world: Antarctica, New Zealand, southern Australia, South Africa and South America. The furthest north they get is the Galapagos Islands, where the cold Humboldt Current flows past.

Physical description

All penguins have a white belly and a dark (mostly black) back. Penguins cannot fly, but they can swim very well. Their wings have become stiff and small swimming flippers. They have good hearing and can see underwater. The white and black colors are for camouflage (to help them hide) when they swim. So, when a predator looking from underwater sees the white belly and wings of the penguin, they can not see it well with the light coming from above. Seen from above, the penguin's black back blends in with the dark water.Penguins have webbed feet used for paddling in the water. They cannot walk well, so they waddle.

The biggest penguins may stand nearly 4 feet tall (110 cm) and can weigh almost 100 pounds (40 kg). The smallest kinds are only about one foot (32 cm) tall. Penguins have a thick layer of blubber that helps them keep warm, and their feathers are very tightly packed to make another cover. They also have a layer of woolly down under the feathers that are coated with a type of oil that makes them waterproof.


A penguin encounters a human during Antarctic summer.

Most penguins lay two eggs per year but emperor penguins lay only one. After the penguins mate, the mother lays her egg or eggs and soon goes in the ocean to eat. The father and mother take turns keeping the eggs warm, and of the chicks after they hatch. The parent on baby duty has nothing to eat. The time one parent is alone with the eggs or chicks and going hungry may be weeks or months depending on what kind of penguin they are.


Penguins eat krill, fish, squid, and other small animals from the ocean, which they catch. They are at home in the ocean. They come up on the land or ice to lay their eggs and raise the chicks. They don't eat there because they live in places where the land has no food for them. In most species the birds all nest together in a huge group, called a rookery. They usually make nests on the ground with rocks or mud.

Penguins cannot taste fish. This was discovered when a research team noticed they were missing some key genes for taste. A closer look at the DNA of penguins showed that all species lack functioning genes for the receptors of sweet, umami, and bitter tastes. It doesn't matter to them, because they swallow the fish whole, without chewing.

Different kinds

There are 16-20 living species (types) of penguins. The white-flippered penguin is today generally considered a subspecies of the little penguin. It is still unclear if the royal penguin is a subspecies of the macaroni penguin. Scientists are also uncertain whether rockhopper penguins are one, two, or three species.

List of penguins

Subfamily Spheniscinae – modern penguins

Image Genus Living Species
Emperor Penguin Manchot empereur.jpg Aptenodytes Miller,JF, 1778 – great penguins
Pygoscelis antarcticus -Cooper Bay, South Georgia, British Overseas Territories, UK-8.jpg Pygoscelis Wagler, 1832 – brush-tailed penguins
Little Penguin Feb09.jpg Eudyptula Bonaparte, 1856 – little penguins
Pingüino (1).JPG Spheniscus Brisson 1760 – banded penguins
Yellow-eyed Penguin MC.jpg Megadyptes Milne-Edwards, 1880
SnaresPenguin (Mattern) large.jpg Eudyptes Vieillot, 1816 – crested penguins
  • Fiordland penguin, Eudyptes pachyrynchus
  • Snares penguin, Eudyptes robustus
  • Erect-crested penguin, Eudyptes sclateri
  • Southern rockhopper penguin, Eudyptes chrysocome
  • Eastern rockhopper penguin, Eudyptes filholi
  • Northern rockhopper penguin, Eudyptes moseleyi
  • Royal penguin, Eudyptes schlegeli (disputed)
  • Macaroni penguin, Eudyptes chrysolophus
  • †Chatham penguin, Eudyptes chathamensis (extinct)

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