Children are often fascinated by penguins because of their distinctive upright gait and striking colouration. Penguins are adapted to extreme environments, including very hot and very cold places, and display a range of complex behaviours. Studying penguins can help children learn about the environment in general and about animal behaviour, which often is remarkably similar to human behaviour.
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Penguins are flightless birds famous for being some of the few animals to colonise Antarctica. There are about 17 different species, ranging from the 18-inch-tall little blue penguins of Australia and New Zealand to the 4-foot-tall emperor penguins of Antarctica. Being water birds, penguins eat fish and marine invertebrates such as krill.
Penguins have the body shape and colouring of an aquatic creature. All penguins have light bellies and dark backs, a similar colouring pattern to many fish. It exists in penguins for the same reason. It makes penguins difficult for predators to see in the water from above --- because their dark backs merge with the dark depths --- and from below --- because their light bellies merge with the light surface. Penguins have exceptionally thick, waterproof feathers to insulate them while they are underwater. They have up to 70 feathers per square inch. Their wings are more like flippers, because they are used for swimming and not flying.
Penguins are primarily water birds, spending up to three-quarters or more of their lives at sea. They are far better adapted for water than for land. Penguins are slow and clumsy on land, but they are fast swimmers. Penguins live throughout the Southern Hemisphere, in South America, Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Antarctica. Not all penguins live in cold places; some live in hot climates. The Galapagos penguin, for example, lives right on the equator.
Most penguins are highly social. Some, such as emperor penguins, form huge breeding colonies. Penguins have to raise their young on land, and this is not easy for animals adapted to the water. Forming groups provides mutual protection. Some penguins perform incredible feats just to get onto the land. Rockhopper penguins, for example, scale 90-foot cliffs.
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