15 Fun Little Penguin Facts

little penguin facts

It’s no secret that you, me, and pretty much everyone else find penguins ridiculously cute; now imagine how cute can a species called “little penguin” be.

The little penguin, also known as “little blue penguin”, “blue penguin”, or “fairy penguin” gets all its common names due to its tiny size and blueish-gray plumage.

However, these tiny birds have a surprising amount of cool adaptations that definitely set them apart from the rest.

That is why today I want to bring you these 15 fun little penguin facts that are sure to be as educational as they’re entertaining. So without further ado, please enjoy this stupendous compilation.

1. Little Penguins Are The Smallest Penguin Species

Reaching a maximum height of 41 cm / 16 in. and weighing only about 1kg / 2.2 lbs. the little penguin is the smallest out of the 18 penguin species. Nonetheless, you shouldn’t let their tiny size fool you as even though these are highly sociable animals they are also very aggressive.

In fact, this species has over a dozen different aggressive displays that have been carefully studied by scientists, so they may be small but they will definitely stand their ground. 

2. Little Penguins Are Faithful Partners Who Put Childrearing First

Little penguins are some of the most loyal penguin species! These small sea birds form monogamous pairs that will only dissolve for 2 reasons:

  1. Death
  2. Unsuccessful breeding

There is an extremely low “divorce” rate among little penguins and mated pairs will breed together year after year, but if a bonded pair has an unsuccessful nesting attempt during a breeding season chances are these penguins will call it quits and search for a more productive alliance. 

little penguin

3. Little Penguins Have Nocturnal Ways

A lot of people believe that little penguins are nocturnal due to their habit of coming ashore from their feeding dives after dusk and going into the water before dawn.

However, while this bird is the “most nocturnal” penguin species out there it isn’t REALLY nocturnal.

Little penguins will leave for foraging dives before dawn and return to land on “rafts”, made up of around 6 individuals, after dark.

Once ashore they will be very loud as they make their way to their particular resting sites giving people the wrong impression that they’re nocturnal. 

This is thought to be an adaptation to avoid land predators while moving to and from the water in the dark.

4. Little Penguins Have Humans To Blame For Most Land Predators

The only natural land predators of the little penguin are pacific gulls and king’s skinks and they only go after eggs and hatchlings.

Every other land-based predator has been introduced by humans and they are significantly detrimental to little penguin populations.

Their introduced predators are weasels, rats, and domestic cats and dogs.

5. Little Penguins Have A Varied Diet

Little penguins carry out a diet comprising mostly small fish but will gladly eat squid, octopus, and crustaceans when available.

Each population may have slightly different diets depending on what’s most available in the area but some of the common prey items are:

  • Anchovies
  • Different species of cod
  • Herring 
  • Cuttlefish
  • Sardines 
  • Jellyfish 
  • Sea horses
  • Crab larvae
  • Prawns 
  • Shrimp
  • Squid

6. Little Penguin Chicks Aren’t As Social As Other Species

While most older penguin chicks associate in groups called “creches” to get enough warmth and protection while their parents are on dives, little penguin chicks prefer to remain on their nest sites.

Creches are sometimes observed among chicks that live in large caves with several nests.

7. Little Penguins Have The Shortest Breeding Cycle

Little penguins have a breeding cycle that lasts for around 50 days from courtship to egg hatching making it the shortest breeding cycle in any penguin species.

The chicks fledge once they are between 50 – 65 days old. 

little penguin
Image: Reppy_Au via Flickr

8. Little Penguins Have Blue Eyes

While most penguin species’ eyes are red, brown, or something in between the little penguin has blue-grayish eyes.

9. The Little Penguin Is The Only Member Of Its Genus 

The little blue penguin is the sole member of the genus Eudyptula. Eudyptula is greek for “good little diver” which is quite suiting for the little penguin as it carries out underwater pursuits during its dives that would put the fast and furious franchise to shame. 

10. Little Penguins Only Sleep 4 Minutes At A Time

Whether they’re laying down or standing up, night or day, little penguins sleep for only 4 minutes at a time and these periods occur throughout the day and night.

During the nighttime, however, they will have more frequent “sleep periods” than they normally do during the day.

Even while making their way from the shore to their nesting sites it’s not uncommon to see some individuals stopping every 20 – 50 m / 66 – 164 feet to take a short nap before continuing the trek home. 

11. Little Penguins Can Reach A Speed of 2.5 KM Per Hour

While small these penguins are really good at chasing small fish in shallow water reaching an average speed of 2.5 km / 1.6 miles per hour.

Nevertheless, some scientists have records of exceptional individuals reaching speeds of 6.4 km / 4 miles per hour.

12. Little Penguins Can Live For A Surprisingly Long Time

While predation reduces the average lifespan of little penguins to about 6 – 7 years in the wild, captive individuals can live to be over 20 years old.

13. Little Penguins Fast For 2 Weeks Every Year

While going through their annual molt, where penguins replace all their feathers at once, little penguins need to stay completely dry as they don’t have their special waterproof feathers.

This of course means that diving for food is not possible and they must therefore fast during their 2-week molt. 

little penguins
Image: Peter Miler via Flickr

14. Little Penguins Are The Only Penguin Species Capable Of Having More Than One Egg Cluth Per Season

Little penguin breeding season takes place between June and December and thanks to the fact that they have such a short breeding cycle these penguins can have 2, or even 3, viable clutches in a single season. However, doing so is very rare. 

15. Little Penguins Are The Most Common Penguins In New Zealand

Little penguins prefer to inhabit rocky beaches with lots of caves and crevices to rest and nest away from predators.

This preference has made them feel right at home on all of New Zealand’s coasts as well as surrounding islands.

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