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Are Penguins Arctic Animals?

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Penguins are not arctic animals, but rather live at the South Pole, or Antarctic, and in surrounding areas. There are many types of penguins, some of which even migrate short distances to different breeding or feeding grounds, but for the most part they confine themselves to the southernmost latitudes of the world.

Penguin Classification

All penguins are birds, meaning they belong to the class Aves. They belong to the order Sphenisciformes and the family Spheniscidae, though there are several genera within this family and even more species. Overall there are five genera -- Aptenodytes, Pygoscelis, Eudyptes, Megadyptes and Spheniscus -- composed of 18 overall species, the best-known of which is likely the emperor penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri). Some scientists also include a 19th species, the white-flippered fairy penguin (Eudyptula albosignata), and more than 40 extinct species are known from the fossil record.

Not Always a Frozen Home

Because penguins are flightless but very good at swimming, they live close to the sea during at least some portion of the year. While many of them live in Antarctica, others inhabit the southern tips of South America or on islands in the Southern Hemisphere. Rockhopper penguins (Eudyptes chrysocome), for instance, live in the South Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans. Magellenic penguins (Spheniscus magellanicus), on the other hand, live on the southern coast of South America. The emperor penguin lives in Antarctica, and is the only animal to stay on open ice during the Antarctic winter.

Staying Warm

Penguins have developed various methods for maintaining body heat during the cold winter months in the world’s southern regions. They tuck in their flippers and may shiver to generate warmth. Some scientists believe that penguins’ habit of sleeping with their bills tucked under their wings may reduce heat loss during cold nights. When food resources are scarce, penguins move less and sleep more to conserve energy. Emperor penguins have developed a unique system whereby they stand in a large huddle and rotate outward and inward to give everyone a chance to stay warm in the middle.

A Penguin's Life

Penguins are well adapted to watery environments, some spending as much as 75 percent of their lives in the ocean. Many penguins execute impressive jumps as they exit the water, giving them the lift necessary to land on tricky ice floes or rocky beaches. They are excellent divers, and chinstrap penguins (Pygoscelis antarcticus) can reach depths greater than 300 feet. Most penguins’ food, however, exists in the top layers of the ocean, so there's no need to dive so far. They are very social, forming large colonies and using physical and vocal displays to communicate.