Adorable flightless birds living by the shore – what could they possibly be filling their bellies with? Of course, the first thing that comes to mind is fish, but there’s more to it:
All penguins are carnivores. The type of food they eat depends on their size and location. Larger penguins like emperor and king penguins prefer larger fishes, octopuses and squids. In contrast, the smaller ones, like chinstrap or little penguins, find krills and smaller fishes more appealing.
If you want to know all the food-related details of penguins, like why female penguins eat more than males, then this article is just for you!
What Does a Penguin Eat?
Penguins aren’t picky eaters, owing to their taste bud’s ability or disability of only detecting sour and sweet tastes.
On most days, their diet looks like this:
Penguins love gobbling up tiny shrimp-like things called krill, as well as fish and squid.
The little guys mostly stick to krill for their meals, which gives them the energy they need to survive in cold subarctic environments. Some of the bigger penguins are even bold enough to munch on young crabs and lobsters!
The little guys chow down on glacial squids while the big boys, like Emperors and Kings, go for the giant warty squid.
Plus, some penguin species like to snack on octopuses too! Squids are especially popular because they’re super nutritious with lots of protein and carbs and come in all sorts of varieties.
Some penguins love their fish more than others. Fish makes up 90% of an Emperor penguin’s diet, while Chinstrap penguins only eat about 10% of fish. These birds love chowing down on all sorts of fish, like sardines, silverfish, and more.
But let’s be honest, when it comes to fish, penguins are not picky eaters and will pretty much eat whatever cold-water fish they can get their beaks on!
Mostly made up of water, jellyfish are not very appetizing.
However, researchers checked out what some penguin species were eating and found that when food is hard to come by, Adélie penguins, Yellow-eyed penguins, Magellanic penguins, and Little penguins are down to munch on some jellyfish.
How do Penguins Hunt?
Different species of penguins differ in dietary preference and hunting techniques, but one thing that unites them all is their excellent eyesight and exceptional swimming ability.
A penguin’s eyesight is just as good underwater as it is on land to adapt to catching prey underwater.
2. Bioluminescent Light
On top of that, research shows that most of their prey, like squids, crustaceans, and certain fishes, emit a bioluminescent light that helps penguins track their prey in the deep, dark ocean.
Mostly, penguins find their prey at a depth of 50 to 60 ft in the sea. So their insane diving skills and ability to be underwater for several minutes make the job easier than it sounds.
How do Penguins Eat?
It might sound like a rather obvious question, but not if you don’t have teeth.
Yes, penguins eat without teeth.
After catching prey with their sharp beak, penguins swallow their prey whole.
A penguin’s mouth has adaptations called papillae. These are spiny growths on the tongue and mouth that allow the larger surface area to fit a large prey and prevent the prey from sleeping out the mouth.
How much do Penguins Eat?
One day a penguin could be eating 2 pounds of meals a day and could be starving for months the next.
Doesn’t make sense? We’ll break it up for you:
An average penguin eats just over 50 pounds in one hunt and uses the food for fat storage in colder months. These calories keep a penguin warm and active in winter.
How much a penguin eats depends on the time of the year.
Penguins hunt almost daily in the summers, some even diving as much as 200 times a day!
Penguins don’t mind spending their whole day in the water hunting when food is readily available. An example is the little penguin and the yellow-eyed penguin.
This is how they can eat over 50 pounds some days.
Winter is the incubation period. This means the male protects the egg and starves for months while the female is out to hunt.
Emperor penguins can fast for 115 days, and Royal penguins for 1.5 to 2 months yearly!
They live off of the body fat that they get during the summers. A male penguin loses up to 45% of its body weight during the incubation period until the female returns.
What do penguins eat in the Zoo?
Zoo keepers feed penguins dead or frozen fish, shrimp, and krill. This is done to maintain a similar diet as in the wild. However, these penguins don’t experience hunting and eating their prey alive.
What do Penguins Drink?
To keep themselves hydrated, penguins go for salt water. The same water is harmful to land-dwelling animals and humans, but penguins never cease to amaze us.
Penguins have a natural filter that takes all the salt out of their mouth when they drink it. The action is like ‘sneezing‘, excreting the salt through their bills.
The special gland that makes this possible is the supraorbital gland, which is present in several other seabirds, including gulls.
Do Penguins Taste Anything?
Interestingly, A penguin’s taste buds are built only to detect sweet and sour flavors. Also, swallowing their prey whole doesn’t allow them to taste much of their prey.
Do Penguins Drink Milk?
Only baby penguins drink milk filled with fats and proteins. The ‘crop milk’ is produced in the ’crop’ (pouch in the throat) of a male penguin.