African penguin in exhibit

African Penguin

Scientific Name
Spheniscus demersus
Geographic Range
The coast of South Africa, Namibia, and Mozambique
Fish, particularly anchovies and sardines
African penguin in exhibit Endangered Status Graph - Endangered Endangered Status Graph - Endangered

More Information

African penguins are a smaller penguin species, standing about 18 inches tall and weighing up to 10 pounds. Their iconic black-and-white plumage camouflages them from prey and predators alike: from above, their black feathers fade into the water, and from below, their white bellies blend with the sky. They also have a thin, black band of feathers across the top of their belly and black feathers around the face.

These birds nest in large colonies, especially along the southern tip of South Africa. They have elaborate courtship displays. Nests are excavated from soft substrate—ideally, accumulations of guano or poop. Females lay one or two eggs at a time and both parents incubate them for around 40 days. Once hatched, chicks stay in the nest for around 12 days and are fed by both parents.

Did You Know?

  • African penguins have several heat-regulating adaptations, including patches of exposed pink skin near the eyes through which blood circulates and cools, as well as special muscles that push feathers outward to release trapped heat.
  • African penguins can reach speeds of 15 mph underwater, and some individuals may swim as far as 550 miles away from their colonies to hunt.
  • African penguins are declining rapidly, in large part due to overfishing. Their most important food sources are also popular with humans. Oil pollution and human encroachment are also threats.

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Species Survival Plan®

We cooperate with other members of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to manage the zoo population of this species through a Species Survival Plan®.

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