Penguins have existed on Earth for more than 50 million years, and over that time they have adapted to living in many regions of the Southern Hemisphere. They live along the coasts of South America, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and Antarctica as well as on surrounding islands, including the Galápagos off the coast of Ecuador, where the northernmost penguins live.
Magellanic Penguins were named after the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, who was the first to sail from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean in the mid-1500s through what is now called the Strait of Magellan. A temperate species, Magellanic Penguins are usually about two to two-and-a-half feet tall and weigh between six and fifteen pounds when fully grown. Their closest relatives are the other temperate penguin species: the Galápagos, Humboldt, and African Penguins.
Penguins are birds, and they have feathers and lay eggs. But unlike most other birds, they cannot fly. While flying birds are lightweight, penguins have thick, heavy bones, allowing them to dive and swim underwater. Their wings are more like flippers that are adapted to help penguins “fly” through the water. The torpedo-like shape of their bodies and their feathers help them swim rapidly. They have three hundred times more feathers than flying birds of the same size, with a layer of down that traps air for insulation and an outer layer of feathers that can lock together to form a water-tight covering. Their feathers also help control the penguin’s body temperature. They spend up to three hours a day preening to ensure that the feathers are clean.
Special thanks to P. Dee Boersma for her scientific expertise in reviewing this article.