How do Penguins Adapt to their Environment
Seeing the cute and cuddly penguins in harsh weather locations like Antarctica often brings this question to mind, how do penguins adapt to their environment? While some penguins like the emperor penguins stay in Antarctica through the harsh winter, other penguins like Galapagos penguins live in a moderate climate where they have adapted to the location they live in. There are several ways in which penguins have adapted to live in varying levels of adverse conditions.
In this article, we are going to take a look at some of the ways in which penguins adapt to their environment. These adaptations are essential to their survival and help them to make it through difficult weather and also make use of the available resources to make the best use for the propagation of their species. Here are some of the common penguin adaptations that give them an upper hand in the struggle for survival.
- Thick Blubber – Penguins have a thick layer of blubber under their skin and the thickness of this layer can vary from penguin to penguin. In cold weather, the thick layer of blubber helps the penguins to combat the cold. The blubber keeps their vital organs safe from the worst of the chill and cold winds. When emperor penguins incubate their egg, they often go without food for 1-2 months and in this time, the layer of blubber acts as a source of energy for them.
- Ability to Drink Salt Water – Penguins can drink salt water as they have a supraorbital gland in their body that can remove excess salt from the water. This salt extracted from the water is deposited on their bill and they often shake their head to dislodge the excess salt. Along with salt water, penguins can also drink fresh water when it is available.
- Camouflage – As penguins spend a lot of time in the water, they come to the shore only when it’s mating time or they need to molt. Penguins have adequate camouflage on their body to keep them safe from predators and allow them to hunt without getting detected by their prey. With black wings on their back and white wings on their chest, penguins look like the sky from below and the sea from above. This gives them an advantage when hunting as they can stay safe from predators hunting them and hunt efficiently.
- Flippers Instead of Wings – Penguins are classified as birds, but their wings have evolved into flippers because they spend most of their time in the water. They don’t have the need to fly because they seek prey in the water. Their flippers help them to swim efficiently and move quickly through the water. When there is a low availability of food near the water’s surface, penguins use their strong flippers to dive deeper into the water.
- Torpedo Shaped Body – When swimming in the water, penguins tuck their head in close to their body which helps to streamline their body so that they can move swiftly through the water. Their feet also stay close to their body and they use their tail to change direction through the water while swimming. Their body’s torpedo shape is the ideal shape for moving through water without expanding too much energy.
- Huddle Behavior – Emperor penguins have developed the huddling behavior that is crucial for their survival in the cold winters of the Antarctic region. In the thick of the winter season, penguins stay together in huddles that can vary anywhere from twenty to thousands of penguins. The huddles keep the penguins safe from harsh winds and also keep the chicks and young penguins at the middle of the huddle to save them from predators.
- Feathers – Penguins have different types of feathers on their body. With multiple layers of feathers, penguins are able to trap air between the layers of feathers. The air offers insulation when they are on land and in the water it allows them to exit the water quickly by releasing the air when they shake their feathers. Penguins also preen themselves by oiling their feathers with oil they secrete from a gland in their body. Thus, their feathers get a waterproof layer which aids in swimming.
- Blood Regulation – The extraordinary circulatory system of penguins allows them to adjust body heat depending on their external temperature. If a penguin feels cold, they can conserve heat by keeping the blood flowing to essential organs like the heart and the brain. If penguins get too hot, the blood vessels in their skin dilate to remove heat from the body’s surface. They also direct blood to their feet to keep them from freezing when standing on ice.
- Heat regulation – Regulating their body heat by various means is also an adaptation that helps penguins with their survival. When penguins feel hot, they spread their flippers to remove body heat and in cold conditions, they keep their flippers close to their body and tuck their chin in to conserve body heat. Penguins also have a complex nasal system which allows heat exchange and they can recapture the heat lost through exhalation of breath.
- Thick Bones – As penguins did not have any need to fly, their bones became thicker which allows them to dive deeper into the water with ease. The thick bones in their flippers also give them powerful stroking ability and they often use their flippers to fight off other penguins.
Penguins have skillfully adapted to their environment and whether it is on the icy plains or the cold waters of Antarctica, they survive and thrive in all conditions. Given the difficult conditions that penguins live in, these adaptations have been instrumental to the survival of their species.
Penguins are also social animals and they depend on each other for their survival. Being in groups also helps them to stay safe from predators that might prey on individual penguins or young penguins.
So, what are your thoughts about best adaptations of penguins that help them survive in the Antarctic environment. If you have any questions or queries about adaptations of penguins, feel free to ask in the comment section and our team will answer your queries to the best of their abilities.