Penguins are flightless, aquatic birds that live almost exclusively in the southern hemisphere, especially Antarctica, though only a few species live so far south. Several are found in the temperate zone and one species lives near the equator. They spend about half their lives on land and half in the oceans.
The largest is the Emperor Penguin that is about 3 feet 7 inches tall and weighs about 75 pounds or more. Their wings have become flippers, useless for flight; however, they’re surprisingly agile and while swimming they look similar to birds flying.
All penguins have black backs and wings, with white fronts – for a reason. A predator looking up from below has difficulty distinguishing a white penguin belly and the reflective water surface, and their black back camouflages them from above. Large Emperor Penguins can swim to a depth of 1,870 feet for up to 22 minutes.
Penguins either waddle or slide on their bellies across the snow. This is called “tobogganing” which conserves energy. Their thick insulating feathers keep them warm in the water and they often huddle together for warmth, rotating positions to make sure each penguin gets a turn in the center of the heat pack. They can drink salt water also and the salt is excreted from their nasal passages.
Penguins have no special fear of humans and have approached groups of explorers without hesitation, probably because they have no land predators in Antarctica. Instead they’re at risk at sea from seals and orcas.