Penguins are flightless sea birds that are found almost exclusively below the equator in some of the harshest environments on planet earth.
With 18 species of penguins that inhabit our planet, the greatest concentrations are on the Antarctic coasts and sub-Antarctic islands.
Today, we’re going to take a closer look at how penguins stay warm in these freezing environments and answer a question that often comes up when discussing these birds. Are penguins warm blooded?
Yes, penguins are warm-blooded which means they are able to maintain a constant body temperature above their surroundings and are therefore homeothermic.
Are Penguins Actually Warm-Blooded?
Many animals that live in Antarctica including penguins, seals, and whales are warm-blooded and rely on a thick layer of blubber to keep them insulated against the cold.
Antarctica is the coldest continent on earth with temperatures in winter hovering around -60°C (-76°F).
The continent only has two seasons, winter and summer. In the summer months, there is daylight, and in the winter months, Antarctica is plunged into darkness, adding to the freezing cold temperatures.
To survive in such a harsh environment, penguins must be warm-blooded as they are unable to rely on the sun for warmth.
Penguins have a number of unique adaptations that allow them to stay warm even in the winter months of the coldest place on earth which we will discuss shortly.
Are Penguins Endotherms?
An endotherm is an animal that is dependent on or capable of the internal generation of heat, meaning they produce its own heat to stay warm.
Penguins are most certainly endotherms as they generate most of the heat they need internally.
When it’s cold out, they increase their metabolic heat production to keep their body temperatures constant, no matter the outside conditions.
This means that the internal body temperature of a penguin and other endotherms is more or less independent of the temperature of the environment.
Why Are Penguins Warm-Blooded?
Penguins are warm-blooded because their bodies and internal temperature is warmer than the surrounding air.
To survive in the environments that penguins live in, they need to be warm-blooded as they are unable to rely on the sun year-round for heat.
Like all warm-blooded animals, penguins rely on the metabolism of food for warmth as well as some other adaptations that these sea birds have.
How Do Penguins Stay Warm?
When it comes to staying warm in cold conditions, penguins are experts. They have many adaptations that allow them to stay tasty even in Antarctica.
Below are some of the ways that penguins stay warm:
Penguins have highly specialized fur that is short, broad, and closely spaced to trap warm air close to their skin.
This ensures that their skin is always protected from water and that they are fully waterproof, even whilst submerged under water.
Penguins have around 100 feathers per square inch, which is much more than most birds. Emperor penguins have four layers of overlapping feathers that provide excellent protection from wind.
A penguin can have up to 30% of its own body weight in blubber which works in conjunction with its fur to keep them insulated from the cold.
Blubber is essentially body fat that works by insulating and trapping body heat in, allowing them to stay warm in the harshest environments.
This blubber is exactly the same as the blubber found in seals, whales, and other marine animals that live in Antarctica and cold climates.
It’s an essential part of ensuring that penguins can maintain their body temperature and block out the cold.
One of the most interesting ways in which penguins keep warm is through huddling.
Emperor penguins have developed a social behavior that when it gets cold they huddle together in groups which can sometimes compromise of thousands of penguins.
When conditions get tough, most of the penguins can stay protected from the bitter wind by having other penguins locked close by their side, allowing heat to stay inside of the huddle.
Of course, this isn’t ideal for the penguins that are on the outside of the huddle as they are going to be taking the brunt of the cold, but in doing so they are helping to ensure that hundreds and sometimes thousands of other penguins are staying warm.
There is a continual rotation of penguins on the outside of the huddle so that the penguins on the outside are not there for too long.
It’s a fascinating behavior that works perfectly for penguins to stay warm even in the harshest of Antarctic conditions.
A penguin’s outer plumage is even colder than air, but scientists created a simulation that showed that they might gain back a little heat through thermal convection.
As the cold Antarctic air cycles around a penguin’s body, slightly warmed air comes into contact with the plumage and donates minute amounts of heat back to the penguins, then cycles away at a slightly colder temperature.
Most of the heat probably doesn’t make it back to the penguin’s bodies but the simulation showed that it does make a slight difference and aids in keeping the penguin warm.
So, are penguins warm blooded? Yes, they most certainly are. They need to be in order to survive in Antarctica and the surrounding islands.
Antarctica is the coldest continent on earth, and in the winter months reaches brutally cold temperatures that would freeze exposed human flesh in less than a minute.
Penguins are able to maintain their body temperature through adaptations such as blubber and fur, but also through behaviors such as huddling.
Despite penguins being warm-blooded, conditions can be so cold that they have had to come up with some other solutions to stay warm.
Hopefully, you’ve learned something new today about penguins being warm-blooded and have enjoyed your time here.
If you have, feel free to stick around to learn more about penguins and the many other types of marine life that we discuss here.
Hi, I’m George – the founder of MarinePatch. I created this blog as marine wildlife has been my passion for many years. I’ve spent over a decade in the marine wildlife industry and spent years out in the field conducting research. In today’s modern world, an online blog is the best place for me to share my findings and reach as many people as possible to help educate and inspire others. Enjoy your time here and you’re welcome back anytime!