Yes – all penguins have feathers. Penguins are birds – like pigeons and ostrich – and are covered from head to flipper in lovely insulating feathers.
Why Do Penguins Have Feathers?
Birds evolved many MANY eons ago and developed specialized hairs that we call feathers. Since that first feather – found in fossils from 150MYA during the time of the dinosaurs – birds have always had them.
And only birds have them. Unlike scales and fur – which are shared with many species – only birds evolved feathers. Even bats who later took to the sky didn’t go for the feathered look. And – after years of having feathers – no single bird species have lost their feathers. They must have been a great invention?
Although penguins don’t look all soft and fluffy like most birds, they are 100% feathered – they are just different types of feathers. Their feathers are waterproofed – short, broad, and very close together – with up to 100 feathers per square inch. This means that they stay away from the body creating a cushion of air to keep the penguin’s body warm and dry.
Penguins really need to keep warm in the cold Antarctic oceans – and so these feathers are what enable them to maintain their body temperature and survive all year round in such cold conditions. They don’t feel cold like we would do in the same environment – as they have many other adaptations along with these well-designed feathers to stay warm.
Why Are Some Penguin Chicks Brown?
Penguin chicks have different demands to an adult penguin – and so have different feathers. Unlike adults who travel into the open ocean – all penguin chicks need to do is stand still and keep warm and dry. So for this, they have specialized feathers in those vital first few months.
Often these ‘chick’ feathers are a different color to the adults as they are made differently. These feathers (often brown) are mainly downy – and down feathers are great for insulation (keeping the birds warm). Made from very branched softer feathers, they trap a layer of air perfect for staying warm anywhere – but only when dry. It is also quite disheveled-looking and so young birds always seem bigger than their parents.
In penguins this is very noticeable – especially with King Penguin chicks who are the most extreme fluffy brown chicks!
As the chicks mature – they start to grow their adult feathers through their chick coat to reveal their splendid adult colors more clearly. Once they are coated in their full adult feathers – they will be waterproof and can finally take their first dip in the ocean.
Do Penguins Molt?
Penguin feathers need constant preening to maintain their effectiveness: trapping air is a specialized business and needs constant upkeep. However, eventually, the feathers just become too worn out. So, like most birds, penguins molt out their old feathers and grow a whole new set.
Because penguins are so dependent on their coats’ insulating and waterproofing qualities to survive, they can’t molt bit by bit. They have to do it all at one time. And because it is so dramatic and behavior-changing – it is called a ‘catastrophic molt’. For penguins, it also means that they can’t swim at all during this time. They need to grow totally new feathers for their entire body and shed the old ones while on dry land. It can take a few weeks for most penguins to do this – but up to a month for Emperor Penguins.
Now, penguins can only catch their food if they are swimming – so this means that all the while they are molting – they can’t eat. Penguins need to fast at least once a year for this – and some penguins molt twice a year. They need to feed themselves up in advance so they can basically sit it out on dry land and hope they prepared enough.
Do Penguins Lay Multiple Eggs at Once?
Penguins and the possibility of twins have intrigued researchers for years. While most penguin species lay just one egg, there are exceptions. Emperor penguins are known to lay a single egg, but in rare cases, they may lay a second if they lose the first. This phenomenon, though infrequent, highlights the remarkable adaptability of these fascinating creatures.
Can Penguins Be Albino?
Yes Sometimes – due to a quirk in the cells that tell a feather what color to be – a penguin can be totally white – or at least a pale creamy color. It won’t have any of the normal black feathers that make penguins so instantly recognizable.
Pale penguins are caused by a variety of genetic conditions usually all called ‘albino’ – but many of them are actually due to isabelline or are in fact leucistic. Both conditions remove most of the melanin (black color) from the feathers leaving a pale brown or cream color instead. The normal white parts of the penguin stay white and so from a distance the whole bird looks white.
Very rare in nature.