Penguins' Rock CAM is made possible in part
a generous contribution from the AT&T Foundation.


Cool Penguin Facts and FAQ's


  • The Water’s Fine! - Penguins spend nearly 75% of their life in the water hunting for food.

  • I’m All Ears. - While penguins don’t have visible ears, they do have very good hearing. An ear canal under their feathers allows these birds to hear on land and under water. Hearing is very important to penguins so they can zero in on their mates or chicks within a colony that could have 80,000 or more birds.

  • You Can Call Me Sweetheart. - Many penguin species are monogamous and may stay with the same mate for several breeding seasons. And penguins make very good parents. Both the male and female care for eggs and chicks.

  • Dressed For Success. - Penguins have a black and white tuxedo look for protection. From above, their black back blends in with the dark waters below. From underwater looking up, a penguin’s white belly tends to match the lighter sky.

  • Pleasantly Plump. - Most penguins are a bit on the chubby side for good reason. Their fat layer insulates them from the cold and provides an energy reserve when food is scarce.

  • On Your Mark, Get Set, Go! - When Adelie penguins hop off the ice and into the ocean, they accelerate from 0 to 16 mph in less than one second. That’s important to avoid leopard seals that swim at an average speed of 4 mph.

  • Ooh-La-La! - The color intensity of a macaroni penguin’s yellow feathers, its red eyes and beak help attract a mate. More vivid yellows and reds tend to indicate a bird’s overall health and disease resistance.

  •  Time Me. - All 17 penguin species are remarkable divers without scuba tanks. Emperor penguins are the champion at holding their breath. They can stay under water for up to 15 minutes.

  • We don’t just waddle. - On land, penguins waddle, hop, and slide around on their bellies. They also have three ways to move through water: they swim near the surface; they “fly” underwater; and they sometimes swim along repeatedly popping out of the water like dolphins.

  • Can You Spare A Bite? – Gentoo chicks beg their parents for food by pecking on their beaks and making a special sound. The parent then opens up and regurgitates food into the chick’s mouth.

  • Was she happy? - The Adelie penguin was discovered by French Explorer Julies-Sebastien-Cesar Dumont d’ Urville when he visited the Antarctic in 1840. He named the penguin after his wife Adelie. No word on whether or not she approved.

  • Mr. Mom? – Rockhopper males stay on land with their chicks while the females go out fishing. Female rockhopper penguins will spend almost all day gathering food making an average of 44 dives an hour.

  • Dig This! – Archaeologists have uncovered fossilized penguins that date back 58 to 62 million years ago. That means somehow penguin ancestors survived after the mass extinction of the dinosaurs. The largest penguin fossils were as large as a human.

  • Deep Divers. – Several species of penguins routinely dive to depths between 300 and 500 feet. Scientists attached recording instruments on an Emperor penguin that once dove to an incredible depth of 1800 feet!

  • No Choppers? – Penguins don’t have any teeth, but they do have barbs on their tongue and throat. These barbs point backwards helping penguins swallow slippery fish, squid and krill.

  • Let’s Play Charades. – Penguins are very loud birds, calling to each other frequently throughout the day. Watch closely and you’ll also see a lot of body language. Penguins communicate by dipping their heads down and bobbing them back up as their flippers flap at one another.

  • Tiny Torpedoes. – All penguins are built for speed under water. They are very streamlined with strong flippers that can propel them through the water with ease. Some species are capable of short bursts of greater than 20 mph and can maintain speeds of 9 mph. They use bursts of speed to launch themselves onto steep rocky shorelines or icebergs.

  • Time To Chill Out. – Galapagos penguins live right on the Equator in a very tropical climate. To keep cool they hold their flippers out. This allows heat to escape their bodies. It also shades their feet, helping them to avoid sunburn.


Penguins really are “birds of a different feather”. They have a funny way of walking around on land, and an amazing way of “flying” underwater. So naturally we get a lot of questions about our gentoo and macaroni penguins. Here are some answers to the most asked penguin questions.

Q: Can penguins fly?

A: No. You might say penguins have flippers while most other birds have flappers. Birds that spend most of their time in the air need a lightweight and sturdy wing bone. Penguin wings are adapted to propel them through water which is much denser than air. So penguins have strong, heavy wing bones so they don’t have to fight the tendency to bob back to the waters surface. Penguin flippers provide power on the upstroke and the down stroke making them “fly” through the water. ZOOM!

Q: What kind of penguins will we see at the Tennessee Aquarium?

A: We have gentoo and macaroni penguins on display in Chattanooga. “Penguins’ Rock” is the only gallery in the region with these two species. Gentoos are the classic looking black and white birds. Macaronis have a crest of yellow feathers decorating their heads.

Q: How big are the penguins at the Tennessee Aquarium?

A: Gentoo penguins are the 3rd largest penguins in the world. They can grow to between 30 and 35 inches tall. Macaroni penguins are the largest of the crested penguins with a standing height of 25 to 28 inches.

Q: What’s the size range for penguins?
A: The tallest penguin species is the emperor which stands nearly 4 feet tall. The smallest is the little blue penguin which only grows to a height of around 16 inches.

Q: How many kinds of penguins are there?

A: There are 17 species of penguins in the world today. All of them are found in the Southern Hemisphere

Q: Have penguins ever lived in the Northern Hemisphere?
A: A relative to penguins, the Great Auk roamed the North Atlantic from North America through Iceland, Norway, and Great Britain during the 19th century. Auks had no natural predators and no natural fear of humans. They were hunted on a large scale for food, their eggs, and their downy feathers. Sadly the last pair was killed in 1844, and the Great Auk became extinct.

Q: Penguins look shiny, not fluffy like other birds. Do they have feathers?
A: You bet! In fact their tiny feathers are tightly packed on their bodies. Penguins have 70 to 80 feathers per square inch. To see how many feathers that really is; use a ruler to draw a one inch box. Now try to draw 80 dots inside that box.

Q: What is molting?
A: Molting is the annual process where penguins lose all of their feathers in a short period of time. In some penguins, this happens in as little as two weeks. They molt their old feathers and grow new ones, usually right after breeding. This puts a tremendous physical strain on the penguins’ bodies. Our veterinarian says it would be like a human growing four feet of hair in two weeks.

Q: I’ve heard there are cold and warm penguins. What does that mean?
A: Cold climate penguins like our gentoo and macaroni species come from the sub-Antarctic islands surrounding the South Pole. They are adapted to cold weather conditions, and must live in a chilly environment to stay healthy and happy. Warmer species like African and Humbolt penguins are found in the wild from southern Africa and South America, to islands nearly on the Equator.

Q: What do penguins eat?

A: Penguins prefer a diet of fish, squid, and krill.

Q: What’s krill?
A: Krill are small shrimp-like creatures. Krill can be found in large numbers in the chilly ocean waters where cold climate penguins feast. Blue whales and some seals also find krill very tasty. Krill may be small, but they play a huge role in the Antarctic ecosystem as a food source.

Q: Do polar bears eat penguins?
A: No. Polar bears live in the northern hemisphere in areas surrounding the North Pole. Penguins live in the southern hemisphere mostly in areas surrounding Antarctica and the South Pole. But adult penguins must avoid being eaten by leopard seals, sharks, and occasionally orcas. Younger penguins must avoid skuas, large gull-like birds and giant petrels, another large seabird.

Q: Do penguins mate for life?
A: Gentoos, like many penguin species, tend to pick one mate for life. Some species like African penguins have a longer breeding season and may not be as committed.

Q: Do penguins lay more than one egg at a time?
A: Egg-laying varies among penguin species. Emperor penguins only lay one egg at a time. Gentoo penguins usually lay two eggs. Macaroni penguins usually lay two eggs, but the first is usually one half the size of the second egg and rarely produces a chick.

Q: How long must a penguin chick stay with its parents before it can venture out on its own?

A: Macaroni parents care for their chicks for 60 to 65 days. Gentoos care for their babies for 70 to 75 days. After this time period the chicks of both species have grown their adult feathers and are ready to head out into the world on their own.


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Cool Penguin Facts & FAQ's

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