54 Facts About The African Penguin

While you may think that all penguins are the same – we’re here to tell you different! The African penguin, as its name suggests, is a native of the African waters. Specificly, Sothern African waters. But what else do you know about them? Let us help you on your journey of discovery! Here are 54 facts about the African Penguin! 

Fact 1: The scientific name of the African Penguin is ‘Spheniscus demersus’. This name has an Ancient Greek and Latin origin and was thought to have been first used in the 18th century.  

Fact 2: While we know this little creature as the African penguin, it also has other names. These other names for the African Penguin include ‘Cape penguin’ and ‘South African penguin’. As you can guess these names are based on the location where the African penguin lives. 

Fact 3: As their ever-so-clever name suggests, they live in the Southern African waters. The waters in this area are generally quite warm, but they are not overly warm! They can become cold at different times of the year, but given that this location is near enough to the equator it rarely gets freezing cold here.

Fact 4: As with most penguins, the African penguin is flightless. Yep, you guessed it! This means that he or she cannot fly! 

Fact 5: African penguins generally swim within 7.5 miles of the shore when they hunt for food. This is mainly to do with the abundance of food in shallow waters near the coast. They have no need to roam any further out to sea.

Fact 6: African penguins have wing-looking things for arms, but they are actually known as flippers. Flippers are there to help the penguin to swim more effectively through the water. The shape of the flippers also helps the penguin to navigate through the water at high speed. When swimming the penguin will also use its feet to move forwards! 

Fact 7: An African penguin that has reached adulthood weighs about 2.2-3.5 kg. This does differ by year and sex. For example, if there is plenty of food available for all the penguins to eat then they will weigh more, but if food is in short supply then they’ll weigh less. Simple! 

Fact 8: Similarly, adult African penguins are about 60-70 cm tall.

Fact 9: If you look closely at an African penguin you will notice that they have a black facial mask around their face. This is a characteristic of their species! 

Fact 10: As well as a black mask, African penguins also have pink spots around their eyes that are there to help them cope with the changing temperatures. When it’s hot the body sends more blood to this pink part to help them dissipate body heat to the surrounding air. In other words, they are able to thermoregulate themselves – I think we can all agree that this is pretty epic! 

D. Gordon E. Robertson – Thanks! CC BY-SA 3.0

Fact 11: When searching for food an African penguin can dive down to a depth of about 25m on average. There have been recordings of greater depths being dived but this is seen as a standard dive-distance. 

Fact 12: African penguins have a good diet which is largely made up of food found in the sea! Well, there’s a surprise! They eat fish, sardines, anchovies, small crustaceans, and squid (ew!). 

Fact 13: Sadly, they are another group of animals classified as ‘Endangered’ on the Endangered Species List as of 2013. The number of penguins in this species are far and few between, their biggest hope is that breeding programs are successful. 

Fact 14: African penguins have a loud donkey-like bray. This is a loud noise that is quite distinct to this family of animals. 

Fac 15: In some parts of the world the African penguin is sometimes known as the ‘black-footed penguin’ and the ‘jackass penguin’. The ‘jackass penguin’ name might have something to do with the noise they make! 

Fact 16: A baby penguin is known as a ‘chick’.

Fact 17: African penguins are part of the animal class ‘Aves’. This class is where you find the birds of the world!  

Fact 18: Penguins do have ears, they basically look like little holes on the side of their head, which are usually covered with feathers.

Fact 19: African penguins were talked about greatly by Carl Linnaeus, a Swedish zoologist, physician, and botanist, in the 10th edition of the book ‘Systema Naturae’ in 1758.

Fact 20: Incubation of an African penguin’s egg or eggs is for about 40 days. These eggs are taken good care of during this time by the parents. 

Olga Ernst – Thanks! CC BY-SA 4.0

Fact 21: A group of penguins on land are called a ‘waddle’.

Fact 22: They are in the group of ‘banded penguins’ along with the Galapagos, Magellanic, and Humboldt penguins. These 4 species of penguin all belong to the genus ‘Spheniscus’ and generally have these characteristics:

  • A black band running around their bodies
  • An underdeveloped fluff sack
  • A lightly or unfeathered patch of skin around the eye region
  • Black beaks with a tiny white band around it
  • Spots around the belly area
  • They lay eggs
  • They raise their own young 

Fact 23: An African penguin consumes up to 540 grams of food a day. This is raised to 1kg if the penguin is raising chicks. 

Fact 24: ‘Sphen’ from the scientific name for the African penguin, ‘Spheniscus,’ in Ancient Greek means ‘wedge’. While the second half of its scientific name, ‘demersus,’ in Latin means ‘plunging’. So, plunging wedge, hmm not sure on that name! HEHE. 

Fact 25: Both parents incubate the eggs that have been laid.

Fact 26: African penguin spots, that appear near their belly, are completely unique to each penguin like a human fingerprint. 

Fact 27: A group of penguins in the water is called a ‘raft’. 

Fact 28: When a chick is old enough it joins a ‘chick nursery’ which is known as a ‘crèche’. When the Mothers and Fathers go out for food their chicks are left together here. 

Fact 29: Breeding occurs from March to May in South Africa, but November to December in Namibia. Depending on where the African penguin is located determines what their breeding pattern will be like. 

Fact 30: Surprisingly, an African penguin is said to be able to hold its breath for 69 seconds underwater when searching for food. Although, there have been other longer records.  

Michael Barera – Thanks! CC BY-SA 4.0

Fact 31: An egg produced by a penguin is said to be about 3 to 4 times bigger than that of hens. 

Fact 32: Female African penguins are fertile for about 10 years. However, environmental conditions affect whether they breed or not. For example, if there is a shortage of food, then it obviously makes sense to hold off on making chicks as breeding increases the need for food. 

Fact 33: African penguins molt, meaning they lose their feathers. They re-grow new feathers in about 3 weeks. 

Fact 34: In the 1970s, African penguin eggs were a delicacy. African penguin eggs are also famous in the collector’s world too. It is not uncommon to see people collecting these little eggs and then behaving inhumanely with them. 

Fact 35: Male African penguins are usually larger in size and have a bigger beaks than females. 

Fact 36: The average age of a wild African penguin is between 18 years.

Fact 37: Young penguins grow into their stripes and colors. When they’re born they have dark blue/brown markings on their bodies.

Fact 38: Countershading is a great trick they use to hide camouflage themselves. The black and white colors of the African penguins actually help to hide them from predators. Their white color helps the penguin blend in with the sky when a predator is looking up at them from deeper in the water. Because the sun shines down the penguins are difficult to spot. On the other hand, their black color protects them from predators who are looking down on them. The black helps them to blend in with the dark color of the ocean and so they are had to spot from high above. 

Fact 39: They live on the 24 colonies that are between the two islands of Namibia and Algoa Bay.

Fact 40: Oil spills in the sea are a big threat to African penguins. In fact, throughout history, many oil spills in the sea have claimed countless lives of not only penguins but the lives of other animals too. Organizations are always working on new and better ways of protecting these vulnerable animals from oil spill harm! 

Fact 41: Where African penguins live is sometimes called ‘Penguin Islands’ because the African penguin is the only species of penguin that has bred in Africa, and because there are lots of them there. 

Fact 42: In June 2003, the ‘MV Treasure’ sank. A massive oil spill was cast out into the sea which endangered the lives of many birds as well as 19,000 adult penguins. The rescuers of these poor birds also managed to save a further 19,500 oil-free penguins off another island. In total 91% of these penguins were saved.  

Fact 43: The climate where African penguins live can sometimes become too hot for them. If it gets too hot for them they leave in search of somewhere cooler. If the female penguin has laid her eggs and gets too warm she will also abandon the eggs and search for somewhere colder to live. Unfortunately, these eggs don’t survive the harsh climate alone. 

Fact 44: When an African penguin has molted and has new feathers it cannot go into the water to search for food because these new feathers are not waterproof. The new feathers would take absorb water and would make the penguins heavy and sluggish, which would be fatal for them if they had to out-swim a predator. 

Fact 45: Chicks ‘fledge’ at about 60 to 130 days of age. This means that they leave their home and go off on their own for a period of time. Although, if there isn’t enough food about they’ll stay put with the family for longer.

Fact 46: Eggs are laid in ‘guanos’ or ‘scrapes’. A ‘Guano’ is a mixture of different bird excrement that is mixed together to form a little nest looking shape where eggs can be laid. The excrement creates a warm environment that partially shades the egg from the external environment. A ‘scrape’, on the other hand, is more like a bird’s nest as we would know it. 

Fact 47: In captivity African penguins can live to be about 30 years of age. 

Fact 48: African penguins are monogamous. This means that they mate with 1 partner for life. Which is actually really cute! 

Fact 49: At Boulders Beach people are allowed to go within 1 meter of the African penguin. This is a tourist hotspot, so the penguins are quite used to people taking an interest in them. 

Fact 50: During the 19th century there were around 4 million penguins in total. Sadly, only 21,000 African penguins are left today. There are, however, other species’ of penguin that have high populations. But, there are also species’ of penguin with even smaller populations! 

Fact 51: Their major predators are sharks and fur seals. However, when on land, you can see mongooses, kelp gulls, and caracals preying on them. 

Fact 52: If we humans do not take action right now the African penguin is doomed to be extinct by 2026 if current trends continue.

Fact 53: In 2012, about 18,700 pairs of African penguins were said to live on St Croix Island, near Algoa Island.

Fact 54: African penguins can swim at about 7km per hour. But they can go faster if need be! For perspective, a healthy human walks at about 5km per hour. 


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With thanks to Bl1zz4rd-editor for the title image! CC BY-SA 4.0

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