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African Penguin

Spheniscus demersus


  • South Africa


  • Coastlines & Islands


  • Anchovies
  • Pilchards (sardines)
  • Horse mackerel
  • Round herrings
  • Supplemented by squid and crustaceans

African penguins are birds. Despite their heritage, they are aquatic predators and are specially adapted to life at sea:

    • Spiny Tongues: Penguins have spiny tongues and barbs on the roof of their mouth to grip slippery prey. The spikes allow fish to travel down their throat but prevent any fish from wiggling back up.
    • A Bird Out of Water: In order to confuse or escape predators in the water, penguins can leap about 7 feet into the air, like a missile, then glide back underwater. This behavior  (called porpoising) takes less energy than continuously swimming and allows the birds to gulp a breath of air.
    • Specially Camouflaged: Penguins have special counter-shading camouflage coloring. If you look at them from above, their body is dark to match the dark waters where they are found. From below, their body is light to blend with the sun or moonlight above them.

To see more of the African Penguin’s adaptations, visit them at the African Penguin Exhibit.

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