How do penguins behave?

Their funny gait causes smiles, and their extreme ability to swim, astonishment and admiration. While they have many characteristics similar to other seabirds such as the need to nest in large colonies, there are other fascinating facts about their behavior both on land and in water.

Most penguin species are pelagic; this means that while in the ocean, they stay near the surface, and they do not spend much time underwater. However, penguins are experienced divers, and some species can stay underwater for several minutes. Regarding speed, many species reach about 2 m/s but the emperor penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri) is slightly faster. In contrast, the little penguin (Eudyptula minor), the smallest species, usually swim at a slower speed.

Indeed, they are clumsy on the ground compared to their grace in the water. Often they walk with short steps, but others prefer to jump from rock to rock. Sometimes, over the ice and snow, they have a peculiar way of traveling: sliding on their bellies! Yes, they rest on their belly and glide across smooth surfaces, pushing themselves with the help of their legs and fins. This behavior is called tobogganing, and its primary purpose it is to save energy.

Penguins are usually diurnal, but they can perform some activities during the night.

Penguins are usually diurnal, but they can perform some activities during the night. Recent research indicates that the sun guides them to reach their colonies after spending several weeks or months at sea. Depending on the position of the sun, somehow they know where to swim to find their colonies on the shore. When reaching land, sometimes they arrive in a surprising way, taking momentum underwater and making a high jump quickly to the coast, where sometimes they slip, and walk away.

As you know, penguins cannot breathe underwater, so they have to reach the surface to get air. When traveling, they jump out of the water while moving forward; an activity called porpoising, a maneuver similar to the one made by porpoises and dolphins for the same reason. Penguin smaller species usually do it when they need to travel faster and reduce the energy expenditure consumed when swimming at high speed because the air exerts less resistance on their bodies than water. Larger penguin species do not do it often; King penguin (Aptenodytes patagonicus) almost never do it and the emperor penguin never.

Penguins are not aggressive animals either with other animals or humans; Scientists presume that this behavior is due to the low number of predators in their natural habitat. However, crested penguins show a more temperamental behavior, as they engage in fights more frequent than other species. The Erect-crested Penguin (Eudyptes sclateri) is a good example of this: when the males leave their partner and the nest looking for food, males without nest or not breeding, attack incubating females, who are virtually defenseless. Sometimes they have no choice but retreat and watch their eggs destroyed.

Penguin individual behavior.

Penguin grooming their plumage.

Some species are highly territorial and will defend their nest vigorously, as the Gentoo penguin (Pygoscelis Papua). Many individuals can become involved in disputes over territory in the nesting areas. It has been observed African penguin males (Spheniscus demersus) chasing others while vigorously waving the wings until they catch the victim and aggressively stroke them with their beaks. However, among all, probably the chinstrap penguin is the most aggressive, and it is more likely that they engage in fights than other species, contrasting with the peaceful emperor penguin.

All penguins frequently groom their plumage to remove parasites and keep it healthy.

Another peculiar behavior occurs in colonies of the species that belong to the gender Spheniscus. Sometimes couples or two individuals with no intention to reproduce move in a way that seems to be dancing the tango, and then flick their beaks against each other, like swords; his usually happens for two reasons: to establish social order and as a prelude to mating.

All penguins frequently groom their plumage to remove parasites and keep it healthy. This activity is crucial for them because their plumage under optimal conditions insulates them from the cold and icy water preventing a lethal drop in their body temperature. A gland next to the base of their tail produces a specialized oil. When penguins pass their beaks around that area, they spread the oil throughout their feathers, keeping them healthy.

Grooming behavior varies among species, while some species take care of their plumage by themselves, others, like the African penguin (Spheniscus demersus), primp their peers and even use their legs for that.




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