What Do Penguins Eat

What Do Penguins Eat: Diet Of The Cutest Flightless Birds

Penguins are unique aquatic animals. Although they are considered to be part of the “birds family,” they cannot fly.

There are somewhere between seventeen and nineteen species of penguins worldwide. However, they tend to have many common features. Yet, there are also some distinctive features.

For instance, most of them are black-and-white, as portrayed in pop culture. But there are others that are more colorful, such as the crested penguin. Nevertheless, the most impressive ones are the “royal penguins” that have yellow crown feathers crowns, as well as unique patterns around their neck.

The smallest species is the blue penguin which grows only up to twelve inches and does not weigh more than three pounds. On the opposite, the emperor penguin is the heaviest one, going up to ninety pounds.

Now, another important aspect you should know about penguins is that even though they can deal well with warmer climates and adapt to some tropical environments, the best climate for these creatures is the southern planisphere.

Penguins are fascinating creatures: from walking and hunting to their excellent diving abilities. This being said, here are some cool facts about how and what penguins eat, along with their techniques in surviving during prolonged fasting periods.

Penguins’ Resources And Food Preferences

Penguins’ Resources And Preferences
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Penguins eat krill mostly, a shrimp-like crustacean, part of the Euphausiid family. But their menu also includes other aquatic creatures, such as fishes and squids.

Remember that there are many types of penguins out there, so the diet might change a bit depending on the species.

Each category of penguins has its food preferences, which is an advantage, considering the competition among species. While the smaller penguins prefer krill and squid, the northern penguins eat fish.

For instance, while Adélie penguins seek small krills, chinstraps will forage for larger krills. On the other hand, The King Penguins and the Emperor ones eat mainly squids and fish.

Penguins Food Intake

Penguins’ food intake can vary based on what fish is available in their living area. On average, the entire population of penguins consumes around 1 million and a half kilograms of krill and half a million kg of squid per year.

How Do Penguins Collect and Eat Food?

Penguins will mostly take their food from the sea. They are constantly looking for their prey within 15.3 to 18,3 m of the water’s surface. Still, the location and depth can vary seasonally and sometimes even daily.

Penguins rely on their precise vision during the hunting process. It is fascinating how penguins can locate their food during the most profound darkness at night and the greatest depths.

Scientists have discovered that penguins use bioluminescence (more precisely, the light they produce naturally) to find their next prey, like fishes, oceanic squids, and crustaceans.

To catch their prey, penguins use their bills. They capture the fresh food while swimming. They can even directly swallow fish while they are in motion.

Cool fact: Did you know that penguins have spiny tongues and mighty jaws that help them grip tight even the slippery prey?

One of the most exciting feeding habits of penguin species belongs to the Galapagos ones. Scientists have been studying these animals for their way of accepting and sharing food with other seabirds and flightless cormorants, like blue-footed and masked boobies and frigatebirds.

Moreover, scientists discovered that these pursuit-divers make a lot of effort to force their prey animals to stay close. In consequence, penguins increase the duration of these congregations.

Here are some other interesting facts about the efforts colony penguins make to search for food:

  • The hunting areas can range from 15 km from the colony to almost 900 km. Impressive, right? Some species of penguins, just like the Emperor ones, can cover vast distances in a single foraging trip.
  • On the other hand, Antarctic penguins will walk, swim, even toboggan into the ocean to rookeries. If they do not have a fishing ground nearby, penguins will look for food in seal holes, while others can even make holes in the ice.

What Do Penguins Usually Eat?

All 18 Penguin species are mainly carnivores. They have a piscivorous diet, which includes:

  • Crustaceans
  • Squid
  • Cuttlefish
  • Fish
  • Cephalopods of all kinds

Penguins consume vast amounts of krill. So, they need these aquatic creatures to live and thrive in their colonies.

But an important thing to remember is that most penguins are opportunistic feeders. This means that they will satisfy their hunger with various prey, depending on availability and season.

Conspicuous Band Markings

Fish predators such as penguins will be more likely to catch and chase individuals, although schooling fish can form dense aggregations to defend themselves.

For instance, in the genus Spheniscus, adult penguins, will have at least one black stripe all around their bodies. Scientists believe that this conspicuous mark will force all the individual prey fish to stay away from the main schools and, therefore, increase the penguins’ hunting efficiency.

It has been noted that some penguin species that lack these striping patterns are not that efficient in catching their prey.

Stone Swallowing Tactic 

As odd as it might sound, any lack of food will lead to unusual tactics such as stone swallowing. Scientists have found vast quantities of stone in the penguins’ stomachs. Stones have been found in the belly of contents like Gentoo, African, Magellenic, or yellow-eyed penguins.

Although penguins might have swallowed stones only accidentally, some species of penguins have been spotted swallowing them on purpose. The studies show that, in truth, these animals can sometimes eat lots of rocks.

The theory behind this habit is quite simple: penguins swallow stones to reduce buoyancy or to diminish the sensation of hunger. Another approach supports the idea that rockhopper and macaroni chicks use to swallow stones to help digest touch crustaceans’ exoskeletons, which, as we know, play an essential part in their diet.

Although in perfect shape, the King Penguins purposely eat stones during the breeding season. These giant penguins chose to ingest rocks that were approximately 10mm-30mm. After that, they throw their head back to allow the rocks to go into their stomach.

The reason why they eat stones during the mating season can be related to the fact that penguins bring them to the nest as a gift to their chosen one. So, it’s only natural that the mate accepts it by eating it.


Penguins go through periodic fasting days. Before fasting, penguins will build up a fat layer, providing them enough energy to pass through the fasting period. Here are some interesting facts about the fasting habit:

  • Penguins fast during annual molting periods. However, their fat layer will provide enough energy until the mold is over.
  • During breeding seasons, penguins fast for more extended periods and will not leave their nesting areas to feed. Some penguin species will fast through nesting, courtship, and incubation times.
  • Chicks are fasting until they are strong enough to shed juvenile feathers. Sometimes, the parents will no longer feed their chicks during these fasting periods. Growth stops during the fasting period, but it resumes when the mold is finished.

It is essential to add that fasting depends on penguin species and their sex. King and Emperor penguins have the most prolonged fasting periods.

  • The King penguins, especially the male ones, can last for up to 54 days during courtship;
  • The male emperor penguins can fast from 90 to 120 days during breeding and the whole incubation period.

Baby Penguins Food

During the breeding season, penguin colonies come together and form some rookeries. Male penguins take their role seriously and pick out a nesting site before approaching the females. While Emperor and King penguins will lay only one egg, other species leave two eggs.

In almost any case, both genders will hold the eggs where their body temperature is higher, mostly between their legs. This way, they manage to keep the eggs warm.

However, male Emperor penguins will only care for a single egg and keep it in the fat folds of their feet. During this time, the females will go out and try to hunt for several weeks.

When the baby penguins are ready to hatch from their eggs, they will use their beaks to break the shell. The whole process of coming out from the eggshell can last up to three days. Once the ‘newborn’ comes into this world, the parents will feed it regurgitated food.

Penguins have a two-chambered stomach, which helps them store the food and offer it to their youngest family members.

Moreover, the male penguins can produce a curd-like substance, which helps feed their babies. If the mother has not returned from the hunting activity, males offer this substance to the infants.

As mentioned above, chicks also pass through fasting periods until they shed the juvenile feathers. During these times, they no longer receive food from the adult penguins.

Last Thoughts

Penguins are carnivores, and they eat mainly fish and crustaceans. They do not eat other aquatic or terrestrial plants, as their bodies are not designed to digest plant matters. Although penguins can consume vast amounts of food, they can pass through severe fasting periods.

The oddest meal of penguins are the stones; however, they have wise reasons to swallow them.

So with this information in mind, it is natural to say that penguins are indeed wonderful and fascinating creatures.

Also Read:

Top 33 Birds That Start With P (With Pictures)

10 Black Birds With White Bellies: Uncover the White-bellied Mystery

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