Smithsonian Q & A: Penguins: The Ultimate Question & Answer Book

Overview

There is a whole lot more to these adorable tuxedo adorned birds than meets the eye. Penguins are remarkable creatures with fascinating behaviors. SMITHSONIAN Q & A: PENGUINS refutes common myths and reveals often–unknown facts as it answers hundreds of unusual and fascinating questions about the complex courting, breeding, and eating ...

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Overview

There is a whole lot more to these adorable tuxedo adorned birds than meets the eye. Penguins are remarkable creatures with fascinating behaviors. SMITHSONIAN Q & A: PENGUINS refutes common myths and reveals often–unknown facts as it answers hundreds of unusual and fascinating questions about the complex courting, breeding, and eating habits of penguins.

Why can't penguins fly?

Do penguins make nests like other birds?

Why do penguins fast annually?

Do mates remain faithful for just one season, or for a lifetime?

Hundreds of full–color photographs and illustrations enhance and illustrate the text. Published in association with the Smithsonian.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060891268
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 6/26/2007
  • Series: Smithsonian Q & A Series
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 1,383,515
  • Product dimensions: 7.37 (w) x 9.12 (h) x 0.47 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Smithsonian Q & A: Penguins
The Ultimate Question & Answer Book

Chapter One

Penguin History

There are few creatures on Earth more universally loved than penguins, no creatures more instantly recognizable. From the plains of Arkansas to the headwaters of the Zambesi River, people the world over know penguins—even though the vast majority have never seen a real penguin, and probably never will. But what do we really know about this animal that we have taken into our hearts, if not our heads? Penguins are in danger of becoming caricatures of themselves. The cartoonists have commandeered them as their icons for conformity and uniformity, for funny and awkward, for snow and ice. They walk like us. They swim like fish. They seem cute and cuddly. The reality, however, is that real penguins are not like that at all. They are surprisingly varied, remarkably agile, and they can be found living in deserts in some of the hottest climates of the world. Real penguins can be aggressive and their coats are stiff, unlike the soft, fluffy coverings of toy penguins. Most of all, appearances to the contrary, they are neither mammals nor fish: penguins are birds.

Penguins Are Birds

Q: What is a penguin?

A: Penguins are birds, from the eggs in which they begin their lives to the tips of their feathers. It is true that they do not fly, but flight is not a defining characteristic of birds: feathers and their type of eggs are. Birds probably evolved from dinosaurs—technically, some would argue, they should still be classified as dinosaurs—and principal among the design changes that enabled them to lift off from the Earth'ssurface was the evolution of feathers and becoming warm-blooded. Maintaining a high body temperature enabled the chemical reactions that turn food into energy to occur more efficiently, but it also meant that birds had eggs that needed to be incubated. The ability to fly brought so many advantages to birds, it is hard to imagine why any bird would want to give that up. Penguins, it turns out, are the only family of waterbirds in which all members are flightless.

In the language of scientists, their family is called Spheniscidae, which means "little wedge," but to the rest of us, they are simply "penguins."

Q: When were penguins first discovered?

A: The native peoples in areas frequented by penguins undoubtedly knew of their existence—and in some cases used them for food—but without written records, it is impossible to say how long ago that association began. The first published account of penguins came from a chap aboard Ferdinand Magellan's famous first circumnavigation of the world: Antonio Pigafetta described catching penguins on January 27, 1520, near what was probably Punta Tombo in Argentina, which even today is the site of a very large Magellanic penguin colony. Except that Pigafetta did not call them penguins, he called them "geese." But really, the first recorded encounter with penguins came from another famous voyage: Vasco da Gama's rounding of Cape Horn. On November 25, 1497, the expedition stopped at what is now called Mossel Bay in South Africa and an anonymous diarist wrote, "there are birds as big as ducks, but they cannot fly . . . and they bray like asses." This could only describe African Penguins, which continue to live in Mossel Bay, and are also known as "Jackass Penguins" because of their donkeylike braying. The diary did not get published until 1838 (hence, it was Pigafetta's account that first alerted the world to the existence of penguins) and, somewhat prescient of the sailors that would come after him, the Portuguese recorder of these observations ascribed to the penguins what apparently was a name by which the Great Auk was known.

Q: Why are they called penguins?

A: "Penguin" was yet another one of the names given to the Great Auk, a flightless and now-extinct member of the family of birds, Alcidae, that includes auks and puffins. When sailors from the Northern Hemisphere encountered flightless black-and-white seabirds near the bottom of Argentina, they transferred the name "penguin" to them. This was late in the sixteenth century.

Q: What is a penguin?

A: Penguins are birds, from the eggs in which they begin their lives to the tips of their feathers. It is true that they do not fly, but flight is not a defining characteristic of birds: feathers and their type of eggs are. Birds probably evolved from dinosaurs—technically, some would argue, they should still be classified as dinosaurs—and principal among the design changes that enabled them to lift off from the Earth's surface was the evolution of feathers and becoming warm-blooded. Maintaining a high body temperature enabled the chemical reactions that turn food into energy to occur more efficiently, but it also meant that birds had eggs that needed to be incubated. The ability to fly brought so many advantages to birds, it is hard to imagine why any bird would want to give that up. Penguins, it turns out, are the only family of waterbirds in which all members are flightless.

In the language of scientists, their family is called Spheniscidae, which means "little wedge," but to the rest of us, they are simply "penguins."

Q: When were penguins first discovered?

A: The native peoples in areas frequented by penguins undoubtedly knew of their existence—and in some cases used them for food—but without written records, it is impossible to say how long ago that association began. The first published account of penguins came from a chap aboard Ferdinand Magellan's famous first circumnavigation of the world: Antonio Pigafetta described catching penguins on January 27, 1520, near what was probably Punta Tombo in Argentina, which even today is the site of a very large Magellanic penguin colony. Except that Pigafetta did not call them penguins, he called them "geese." But really, the first recorded encounter with penguins came from another famous voyage: Vasco da Gama's rounding of Cape Horn. On November 25, 1497, the expedition stopped at what is now called Mossel Bay in South Africa and . . .

Smithsonian Q & A: Penguins
The Ultimate Question & Answer Book
. Copyright © by Lloyd Davis. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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