Penguins are awesome so I’m doing two posts! One about penguins in general followed by one specifically looking at the Fairy Penguin, the smallest of the penguins at 40cm tall. The biggest penguin is the emperor, about 1.1m tall.
The names of all the different types of penguins are amazing… We have the kings, the fairys, the macaronis, the chinstrap and the rockhopper, the royal and the gentoo to name a few. The variety is reflected in the behaviour – the smaller ones don’t dive as deep and tend to live in warmer places. Breeding activity varies from species to species, king penguins are monogamous for a season but unlike some types, don’t generally keep the same partner for life. Most lay two eggs although the larger ones tend to stick to one. Emperor penguins produce milk.
As you can see, there is a diversity amongst penguins and whilst we have a set idea about penguin baby raising, different types have different arrangements and ways of looking after their fluffy little chick. Some penguins use a little flap of their tummy fat to keep the egg safe and warm. This is a much nicer way of thinking about our bodies – whilst society dictates we should all be stick thin, the penguin body shows us that our fat and our tummies are used to protect vital life; in the penguins case the egg, in our case, our organs.
As you probably know, penguins are black and white flightless birds which are highly adapted to life in the water. Their wings have become flippers covered in very dense feathers, their tails are used to balance on land and their eyes are adapted so they can see underwater. In terms of that cute little tuxedo, their markings are used to camouflage them in the sea – from underneath they blend with the sky, from above with the water.
When they get out of the water, they do that really cute little wiggle which is adorable. But also functional – it is to help them trap air in their feathers for insulation and they do it after swimming because the water pressure will have pushed out a lot of the air they had trapped.
Once on land, they waddle or slide on their tummies – tobogganning – to conserve energy and to move quickly. The reason their wings or flippers stick out as the walk is partly for balance but they actually can’t fold them unlike most birds. This awkward gait can make the penguin appear uncoordinated on land but the same body comes into its own in the water where it swims with grace – we all shine in the right environment. Do not judge a fish for their inability to climb trees.
The Fiordland penguin, also known as Tawaki was, in Maori mythology, a god that walked the earth in human form. Humans didn’t realise that Tawaki was a god until he climbed to the top of a large hill, took of his clothes and dressed himself in lightning, hence the yellow crest we see on him today. It was only because a man was hiding in the bushes and saw this that the people started to believe Tawaki was a god. We have expectations about how things should look and act, we expect birds to fly and yet the penguin doesn’t. There is a dual consideration here; are you expecting certain things from others and are you embracing your own uniqueness and talents? Are you berating yourself for not being able to fly and missing out on the fact that you’re an awesome swimmer? None of us are good at everything, sometimes it takes a while to find our own skills but it’s a worthwhile journey of discovery. The same is true when you’re looking at other people.
Other than Tawaki, there don’t seem to be many myths about penguins, possibly because they don’t tend to live near humans. However there is one much quoted mention of them in aboriginal mythology as guides for the water serpent, Jeedara, when he attended a ceremonial gathering.