How Long Do Penguins Live? – Unveiling Incredible Lifespan!

Penguins are flightless birds with black and white feathers that live in the Southern Hemisphere. Many species live in Antarctica and its surrounding islands, while others live in Australia, South Africa, and South America. The northernmost penguins live on the Galapagos Islands.

Although these birds do not fly, they swim very well, achieving speeds of 15 to 20 miles per hour (24 to 32 kilometers per hour). These speeds allow them to catch food efficiently and evade potential predators they might encounter.

The lifespan of a penguin depends on the species. Magellanic Penguins live in South America and have the longest lifespan of all penguins, with an average of 20 years. The Little Blue Penguins from New Zealand have the shortest lifespan, an average of six years.

how long do penguins live

How Long Do Captive Penguins Live?

Captive penguins can live much longer than wild penguins; in some cases, several have lived over 40 years. Zoos and marine parks where they live provide consistent and balanced meals containing excellent nutrition for their health. 

Within the controlled environments of zoos, penguins also do not have to worry about being eaten by leopard seals and orcas. When penguins do not suffer from the pressures of predation and the stress of finding food, they can enjoy an extended lifespan. 

How Long Do Wild Penguins Live?

Most of the seventeen penguin species live up to 20 years in the wild. A few species, like the Magellanic, King, and Emperor penguins, can live longer, while some species, like the Adelie and Little Blue, have shorter lifespans.

Wild penguins face many challenges to their survival each day. They rely on fish stocks to provide enough food so that they do not starve. Antarctic penguins depend on clear, easy access to the sea, unblocked by icebergs.

Penguins that live close to humans are impacted by localized environmental changes, such as coastal development, introduced or invasive species, feral house pets, and diseases that come with that proximity. 

Despite these challenges, several penguin populations are either stable or increasing. But, the changing climate threatens to disrupt food availability, impact migration routes, and increase ocean temperatures, causing declines in many species dependent on climate stability.

The penguin species with the greatest risk of extinction include the African Penguin, Erect-Crested Penguin, Galapagos Penguin, Northern Rockhopper Penguin, and Yellow-Eyed Penguin.

How Long Can Penguins Live Without Food?

Many penguin species must migrate long distances from the sea inland to a suitable place to lay their eggs and raise their young. Because penguins move much slower across the land than water, some migrations can take weeks.

In the case of the Emperor Penguin, they travel around 100 miles (11 kilometers) across sea ice in May and June to reach their breeding grounds. The female lays her egg, transfers it to her mate, and returns to the ocean to feed for about nine weeks while the male incubates the egg.

When the female finally returns to care for the young penguin chick, which hatches out in approximately 65 to 75 days, the male penguin has fasted for four months. Males rely solely on their stored fat and can lose fifty percent of their body mass during this period.

Mortality for male penguins in species that breed in this way can be high, especially if the female mate is late returning to the breeding colony. Once the chicks are older, both parents forage for food for them. The fasting period begins again during the next breeding season.

What Kills Penguins?

Wild penguins face predators in the ocean and on land. Leopard seals, orcas, sharks, sea lions, and fur seals prey on adult penguins swimming in the ocean. While adult penguins are fast and agile swimmers, they cannot always evade predation by these larger animals.

In places where penguins live near humans on land, adult penguins sometimes fall prey to feral dogs. Penguin chicks and eggs fall prey to feral cats, stoats, foxes, and snakes. Gulls and ibises eat many African Penguin eggs during the breeding season. 

The Little Penguins of New Zealand hide in their burrows during the day and are active at night to avoid predators, such as snakes, lizards, peregrine falcons, gulls, rats, and swamp harriers.

Large birds, such as skuas, giant petrels, and sheathbills, eat unguarded penguin eggs in the Antarctic breeding grounds. Penguin chicks that leave the creche guarded by adult penguins are also easily susceptible to predation by these birds. 

In addition to predation, penguins sometimes starve to death when they cannot find sufficient food or become entangled in fishing gear. Scientists believe a combination of overfishing and a changing climate contributes to the declining populations of some penguins worldwide.

Humans once hunted penguins extensively across their range and used them for food, fish bait, and clothing. Hunters would harvest the oil from their bodies for lighting and fuel. Many countries have restricted penguin hunting, but some people continue harvesting them.

Both captive and wild penguins are susceptible to Avian Influenza, Infectious Bursal Disease, and other diseases that are introduced into their populations, either from zoo visitors, in the case of captive birds, or from infected wild birds that spread these pathogens to penguins. 

What Is the Oldest Penguin?

While many wild penguins can live around 20 years or more, research suggests they can live longer. Unless researchers band penguins as chicks, however, they cannot know the upper limits of age that penguins can reach. 

Researchers continue conducting studies on many breeding colonies worldwide to understand the current status of many penguin populations and to protect these populations from the impacts of climate change.

According to tagging data, the oldest wild Galapagos Penguin on record lived to be more than 17 years old. The oldest wild Magellanic Penguin is more than 24 years old. 

In zoos, keepers know exactly when a chick is hatched and how old their penguins are, even if they move to a different zoo. In captivity, penguins can live for more than 40 years with proper care.

The oldest captive African Penguin is 43 years old and lives at the Metro Richmond Zoo. At the Odense Zoo in Denmark, a Gentoo Penguin lived to be 41 years old and set a Guinness World Record in 2020.

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