A very large king penguin colony


Penguins are an iconic family of aquatic, flightless birds. Although we think of penguins as Antarctic birds some, like the Galapagos penguin, live in much warmer climates near the equator. The French explorer Beaulieu, on a voyage in 1620, believed penguins to be a type of feathered fish, due to their adaptations to life underwater. Most notably their wings have become flippers, which are useless on land, but excellent in the water.

Their striking black and white plumage is surprisingly effective at hiding them from the likes of killer whales and leopard seals. There are thought to be between 17 and 20 species of penguin. The largest, at one metre tall, is the emperor penguin and the smallest is the delightfully named fairy penguin.

Scientific name: Spheniscidae

Rank: Family

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Map showing the distribution of the Penguins taxa

The shading illustrates the diversity of this group - the darker the colour the greater the number of species. Data provided by WWF's Wildfinder.

When they lived

Discover the other animals and plants that lived during the following geological time periods.


  1. Life
  2. Animals
  3. Vertebrates
  4. Birds
  5. Sphenisciformes
  6. Penguins

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