Somewhere in the hazy recesses of memory, most of us
That tap-dancing bird doesn’t have a thing on real penguins.
The word “penguin” used to refer to a different bird
The word penguin used to be ascribed to the Great Auk, a flightless bird that resembled penguins, but went extinct in the mid-1800s. The name ended up being transferred to the Great Auk’s lookalikes down south.
There were giant penguins
Several species, in fact. These were only from one area, around New Zealand, Antarctica, and possibly Australia. They included several mid-to-large-sized species, getting up to the size of a human at 5 feet tall.
Their eyes are made for underwater vision
Penguins spend so much time in the water that their eyes are specially adapted, leading to a rumor that they are nearsighted on land (for which there is no scientific evidence).
Emperor penguins have a special winter strategy
During the winter, Antarctica gets cold. Wait, it’s already cold. Let’s say colder. So cold that a lone penguin would quickly freeze to death. To survive the long winter while the females are off hunting, the males gather together in a tight pack that circulates to keep one penguin from being on the outside of the pack for too long.
They have a version of albinism
One in 50,000 penguins is born with brown plumage rather than black. These are called Isabelline penguins, and they have it rough – they don’t have the same camouflage as their black-feathered brothers and are often passed over as mates.
Penguins are monogamous…for a bit
While breeding, it is true that penguins are monogamous. For a bit. Penguins only stay with their same mate for the same year and may find other mates for other years.
Dogs are banned from Antarctica because of penguins
When people first came to Antarctica, they brought dogs to pull sleds. However, the dogs kept eating the penguins, so they were banned.
Sometimes mothers who lose their chicks try to steal another one
Penguins do not deal well with loss, apparently. Occasionally, when a mother penguin’s chick dies, the mother will go and attempt to steal another mother’s chick. Sadly, some mothers, like the emperor penguin mothers, soon realize that the new chick doesn’t smell right, so she drives the chick out into the cold to starve to death.