Prof Penguin: Lloyd Spencer Davis

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Prof Penguin Answers Frequently Asked Questions about Penguins

Check out the answers below to popular misconceptions about penguins. Click on a Question below to reveal its Answer. If you'd like to ask Professor Penguin you own question, use the form on the Contact Prof Penguin page.

Do penguins push one penguin in the water to test whether there are Leopard Seals around?

No, they definitely do not do this, although it may look that way to the casual observer. What happens is that penguins like Adelie Penguins congregate at the water's edge – and despite their marvellous adaptations for a life in water, they can often appear reluctant to enter it. Eventually one or two will dive in: whereupon the rest may or may not choose to follow.

When penguin chicks form creches do the adults look after each other's chicks?

The answer is: not really. Parents feed only their own chicks – although hungry chicks are not averse to begging a meal from any adult. If it is not their own parent, however, they are likely to receive a peck and nothing else for their troubles. Somewhat similarly, adults in a creche will not necessarily rush to protect a chick that is being attacked by predators such as skuas. However, the mere presence of adults around a creche does help deter would-be predators and thereby does afford the chicks some protection.

Are penguins a type of fish or mammal?

Penguins are actually birds: they have feathers and lay eggs that must be incubated, which are defining characteristics of birds. The fossil and genetic evidence shows that they are descended from flying birds.

Do penguins live with polar bears?

Despite cartoonists doing their best to propogate this fallacy, penguins and polar bears live on opposite sides of the globe. Penguins are found only in the Southern Hemisphere and Polar Bears live only in the Northern Hemisphere.

How do penguins stay warm?

While penguins do have a layer of fat that helps with insulation, most of their insulation comes from their feathers. The feathers lock together trapping a layer of air next to the skin providing protection from the cold in ways not dissimilar to double glazing or a diver's dry suit.

Do penguins only live on snow and ice?

No. While it is true that the suit of feathers that allows penguins to spend long periods immersed in water also allows them to exploit extremely cold places on land, such as the Antarctic, penguins can also be found breeding as far north as the equator (the Galapagos Islands) and living on the edge of deserts such as those in Peru and Chile.

Are penguins and auks related?

Auks belong to the bird family Alcidae, which is a completely separate family from that of penguins (Spheniscidae). Auks are found in the Northern Hemisphere and are often cited as the Northern Hemisphere's equivalent of penguins because they share common lifestyles and, despite the fact that living auks all fly, they are quite similar to penguins to look at. However, such superficial resemblances are the result of convergent evolution not descent from a common ancestor. That is, the evolutionary process of natural selection can produce similar designs when animals occupy similar lifestyles (or ecological niches as the scientists like to call them).

Do penguins mate for life?

This is often said of virtually all monogamous seabirds, let alone penguins. But recent research has shown that penguins often "divorce" even where both partners survive until the next breeding attempt. The divorce rate varies from species to species and even location to location. Ironically, given the huge success of the documentary March of the Penguins and its portrayal of love in Emperor Penguins, the least faithful of all penguins are the Emperors with the vast majority of pairs "divorcing" from one year to the next.

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