How Penguins Stay Warm (and cool!)

Penguins live in icy waters. The Emperor Penguin, in particular faces cold weather, living in Antarctica. It faces quite a challenge: how to keep its body temperature at 100-102 degrees Fahrenheit, when the winter air it lives in may be a full 200 degrees colder!

Penguin feathers are their main defense against Antarctic cold. These bird species‘ feathers are densely packed, with up to 70 per square inch. The feathers are stiff and form a tightly-overlapping shield against wind, storms, and cold water. Under the penguin’s skin, they also have a thick layer of fat, for extra insulation. And on the coldest days at their breeding grounds, Emperor Penguins huddle together for warmth.

Penguins are so good at keeping warm that their bigger challenge is staying cool! On an above-freezing day in Antarctica, the Emperors could easily overheat, with all their thick layers of feather and fat. And some penguins live in far warmer places. The Galapagos Penguin, which lives near the equator, deals with days that are 70 degrees Fahrenheit!

How do they stay cool enough? Holding their flippers away from their body can help dissipate heat. Warmer-weather penguins like the Galapagos have bare skin patches on their face, to dissipate heat as well. These warm-weather penguins are also only found where the water temperatures are quite cool.