|Penguins are an isolated group of birds with a very ancient origin. The penguin is a unique bird that can swim, but cannot fly. Also it is a unique bird that walks in a standing position.
Modern penguins are found in the Southern hemisphere. Flying birds with tube-shaped noses are considered as their primogenitors, which lived on the Earth during the Cretaceous period of the Mesozoic era (about 100 million years ago). Penguins got their modern name thanks to the external similarity to a wingless razorbill - a representative of the family of auks, which extinguished from the surface of the earth in the middle of the 19th century. While walking on land, the wingless auk kept their body practically vertical, and flippers served as wings. In scientific catalogues, they sounded like Pinguinus impennis.
The very first Europeans who saw the penguins were the sailors from the team of Vasco da Gama. Truly, then they thought them to be geese. Towards the end of the 16th century, the English sea navigators, who also for the first time saw penguins, but earlier they had seen the wingless auks many times, by ignorance decided that all these birds belonged to the same family, and started to call them penguins, meaning auks. In order to avoid this confusion, the French naturalist George-Louis Leclerc Buffon who lived in the 18th century suggested calling these southern inhabitants manchots, which corresponds to the concept of “clumsy”. But as soon as the wingless auks became extinct, the classification proposed by Buffon became worthless.
At present there are 17- 18 types of birds in the penguin family, and are grouped into 6 species. From fossils, 36 species are known. The most ancient remains of penguins have been found in New Zealand (Lower Miocene). At present, the largest of the living penguins (the Emperor penguin) is almost 117 cm in height and weighs up to 46 kg, and the smallest (little penguin) weighs only 1 kg and is 30 - 45 in height.
The alliance of penguins with other birds is not clear. Some researchers even suggest classifying the penguins as a special super-order or even a subclass. Penguins appeared on earth very long ago: in the beginning of the tertiary period, in Eocene, 60 million years ago, maybe even before that – towards the end of the Mesozoic era. Bones of about forty types of fossils have been found. Out of them there are at least seven penguins which are very large, having the height equal to that of humans and a weight of probably about 100 - 120 kg.
Now there are around 15 - 18 species of penguins. They all nest on the islands and coasts of the southern hemisphere, only the Galapagos penguin lives at the equator and sometimes even in the northern hemisphere. We imagine Penguins and Antarctica to be inseparable. Nevertheless in Antarctica, and not on the islands around it, and on the continent itself, only two species of penguins are found: the Emperor and Adelie. All the penguins hatch the chicks, of course on the dry land: in grass, in bushes, in dunes, between the stones, and two species in holes. Nests are pits in earth, and some are laid along the edges with pebbles, seashells, leaves, bones and even the corpses of rabbits. Royal and Emperor penguins do not have nests. They all are colonials; in some nested colonies there are hundreds of thousands and even millions of birds.
Large penguins hatch only one egg, Rockhoppers - often two, most of the penguins hatch two eggs, very rarely three. All the feathery chicks hatch in one day, after 33 - 62 days of brooding. Both the parents feed them, regurgitating the food. While growing up, the chicks run and without the help and company of adults they go into the water. They start to breed only after some years. They are monogamous. Brooding is done either by both the parents or only by the male. They live in monogamy for years. The penguins usually hunt in the sea in flocks. Their wings were transformed into rowing fins, and the feet pointing backwards work as the wheel and the brake.
Penguins eat fish, Cephalopoda mollusks and crustaceous. They drink sea and fresh wate and gulp the snow. The height of the smallest penguins - 40 centimeters, weight - 2 kg. Big penguins: 1 meter, 15 kg (Royal); 1.2 meters, 30 - 45 kg (Emperor).
Penguins live for 7 - 20 years, and some more than that.
What they carry on their skin is not like feathers.
British sailors named the wingless auks as penguins from the combination of the words “pin” and “wing”. Their wings like that of penguins, however, were neither suitable for flying, nor for swimming. That’s why wingless auks have already been depopulated.
When ships started coming to the southern seas from Europe, the sailors saw the penguins here and gave this name to the famous northern birds, without going into the zoological details about dissimilarities between them. But French naturalist Buffon at the end of the 18th century, so that there was no confusion, suggested the name for southern penguins as manchots. This was followed for quite sometime.
The feathers of penguins are small, thick, covering each other only at the end, like tiles or scales. The feathers of the birds don’t grow on the entire body, but only at certain places called feather tracks (pteryla). There are eight main pterylas, and between them there are apteria, the naked skin covered with feathers from above, stretching from the adjacent pteryla. The tectrices of the birds for this purpose are sufficiently long. But with such feathers, it is much more difficult to float, than with the ones that we see on penguins. The feathers of penguins are perfectly streamlined; grow in regular intervals all over the body, without any naked places. New feathers push the old ones from below. New feathers grow on the penguin within 2 - 5 weeks. Penguins go into the water when the chicks grow up and are already independent.
The “Clothes” of a penguin are not suitable for a feather-bed: there are no down feathers, but only tiny “fuzzes” at the bottom on the stem of the feather. Such feathery “lining” is thin, and consequently the penguin has to have a lot of fat under the skin. The thickness of fat in the large penguins is three centimeters. During snow storms, and winter hurricanes in Antarctica - the climatic norm, the fatty “coat” is very much required. Thus the thick feathers help in this case: in snowstorms when the wind speed reaches up to 30 meters per second, not even a single feather of the penguin flickers, they remain smooth, protecting the bird with a thick shell.