What do penguins eat?

Few birds can brag about being agile swimmers. Penguins can do so, and although they lack the ability to fly, their food usually has fins and no wings. Meat from prey animals smaller than them is the base of penguins diet, and they do not eat any terrestrial or aquatic plants just because their body is not designed to digest plants and because the energy and fat they need come from fish.

Most species of penguins feed on small fish, krill, and squid. However, diet varies depending on the species, the characteristics of each penguin and the region where they live. Penguins that live in temperate to tropical locations tend to feed mainly on fish, but those who inhabit the cold environment of the Antarctic continent have to make it mostly on krill, small crustaceans that are abundant in the surrounding waters. Meanwhile, those living in the areas in between can enjoy fish, krill, and squid.

Most species of penguins feed on small fish, krill, and squid.

Searching for food.

Most penguins seek their food within 15.3 and 18.3 meters deep, but, according to their diet, there are two types of penguins:

1. Species who look for food about 20 kilometers off the coast and the colony

  • African penguin (Spheniscus demersus)
  • Galapagos penguin (Galapagos penguin)
  • Gentoo Penguin (Pygoscelis Papua)
  • Humboldt penguin (Spheniscus humboldti)
  • Little Penguin (Eudyptula minor) and
  • Yellow-eyed Penguin (Megadyptes antipodes)

These species make frequent but short trips to the ocean.

2. Species that have to travel hundreds of kilometers away from the colony and the coast

  • Adelie penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae)
  • Chinstrap penguin (Pygoscelis Antarctica)
  • Emperor penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri)
  • King penguin (Aptenodytes patagonicus)
  • Magellanic penguin (Magellanic penguin)
  • All the crested species.

During the incubation period, these species tend to travel much further, since the supply of food in the areas where they live is seasonal.

Penguins do not sit and wait for a fish, squid or crustacean to jump to their beaks. All the opposite, these birds have to chase prey grouped in shoals, like fish and krill. The squids are the exception as they are mainly loners.

All penguins species look for their food in the ocean; therefore, they have to swim several meters down the surface. Their bodies have the proper adaptations to swimming fast after the prey. When diving underwater, they are extremely agile and have no problem to capture small fish with their beaks.

The emperor penguin can stay submerged for up to 20 minutes without surfacing.

The time they can stay underwater can last several minutes, but it varies depending on the species. For example, the emperor penguin can stay submerged for up to 20 minutes without surfacing. How do these penguins do it? Well, their heart rate decreases and their kidneys use less oxygen, so the penguin does not have to come up for air continuously.

It is likely that underwater they are mainly guided by their sense of sight, but is not entirely know how they hunt at night then. Once they have food in their mouth, they make head movements back of forth, so the prey slides backward. They are toothless, but their tongue and throat have some fleshy spines that prevent victims from slipping away. Indeed, they cannot chew them, so they just swallow them.

When these birds eat their food, seawater enters their body, but they do not suffer any damage by ingesting the salt in it. Unlike many animals, they do not usually drink fresh water directly from the sources, but instead, they use the liquid of their prey and the sea to hydrate. In the latter case, the supraorbital glands, which located near their eyes, excrete the excess salt keeping them healthy.

Hungry Chicks.

Both parents feed baby penguins. Initially, parents regurgitate their food and with that mush they feed the chicks peak to peak in their nest. Males and females take turns to perform this task, except the crested penguins, whose females are almost the exclusive feeder.

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