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Do Penguins Hibernate?

Penguins live both in the wild and in captivity. In the US, for example, you can visit these flightless birds in the Detroit Zoo, St Lois Zoo, and many many others. 

If you ever visited penguin enclosures during winter, you probably know that captive penguins in zoos do not hibernate. Their enclosures are well-protected from the extreme cold.

In the wild, penguins are mostly found in the Southern Hemisphere, on Antarctic coasts and sub-Antarctic islands. 

The climate of Antarctica is the coldest on Earth with an average annual temperature of around -56 °F (-49 °C). The lowest recorded temperature on the South Pole was −128.6 °F (−89.2 °C). 

With such extremely low temperatures, it is normal to wonder: do penguins hibernate during winter?

This is a great question that deserves a thorough answer. But the short answer is: no, penguins do not hibernate; neither in the wild nor in captivity. 

do penguins hibernate

Penguins Do Not Hibernate, Here’s Why

Hibernation is a state of deep sleep an animal enters to conserve energy and survive when food is scarce and the temperature is too low.

Most of the time, this happens during the winter months when there is no food around, so the animal decides to drop its body temperature, heart rate, and breathing rate to extremely low levels to conserve energy. 

Many species will hibernate when the weather gets extremely cold, but not penguins; penguins do not need to because of their thick feathers and blubber under the skin.

Emperor penguins, for example, have four layers of overlapping feathers that provide excellent protection from the wind, and thick layers of fat to keep the heat inside the body.

They also have small beaks, short flippers, and small legs and feet; all to prevent heat loss.

Another penguin adaptation to stay warm and stay active during winter is “huddling”. Huddling is a situation where penguins group together to stay warm – the biggest huddle ever recorded had about 5,000 penguins! 

An interesting fact is that the penguins on the outside part of the huddle will take turns, allowing everyone to stay protected from the wind and cold.

All of these adaptations allow penguins to stay active during the winter months without the need to hibernate. 

A big disadvantage to penguin hibernation would be weaker immunity and a higher risk of infections and parasites during and shortly after waking up.

This doesn’t mean penguins do not sleep; not at all. 

Penguins are cathemeral animals – they are both nocturnal and diurnal and can be irregularly active during the day or at night.

Penguins are also polyphasic animals – they will get their 10-12 hour sleep through brief 10-minute naps, throughout the day and night. They can even sleep in water or while standing up.

When the Antarctic winter comes, with 6 months of darkness that lasts more than 20 hours a day, huddling emperor penguins that are incubating eggs might sleep for most of those 24 hours. This is different from hibernation; the penguins are still awake.

Instead Of Hibernation, Penguins Migrate

penguins migrating

Penguins are migratory animals, but not all penguins migrate. If the weather conditions allow it, they prefer to stay where they are. 

Because of the temperature changes, lack of food, and the need to mate, penguins will move to other areas. 

When the dark winter period comes, algae and phytoplankton can not perform photosynthesis in a normal way and the organisms that consume them, such as krill, become scarce. 

Since penguins mostly feed on krill, they need to migrate to other regions where the days are longer and there is food to be found. 

Penguin migrations are very dangerous trips that most young penguins do not survive. They are considered one of the most important events in the life of a penguin.

During the trip, some penguins might get separated from the group and get lost. They are known as vagrants.

Emperor penguins, the largest penguin species, will start migrating around the beginning of March and travel a hundred miles to reach their nesting grounds. 

There they hatch, take care of the baby until it grows up, and then the parents return to their homes leaving the chick at the breeding ground. The chick stays there for about 4-5 years and then migrates just as its parents did.

A 2018 study from the University of Otago discovered that another penguins species, Fiordland penguins, traveled up to 1,500 miles on their 69-day migration expeditions.

fiordland penguin with long yellow eyebrows

These penguins are famous for their long “eyebrows”; make sure to check our list of birds that have eyebrows.

Do Penguins Enter Torpor?

Torpor is a state of sleep where an animal lowers its body temperature, breathing rate, heart rate, and metabolic rate to survive the winter months. 

Compared to hibernation, torpor is an involuntary state that an animal enters into, and lasts a lot shorter. Penguins do not get into any type of torpor.

Animals that go into torpor are some species of birds (like hummingbirds), raccoons, skunks, some mice, and bats.

Do Penguins Estivate?

Aestivation or estivation is a state of sleep similar to hibernation that takes place during the hot and dry summer months. Estivation is characterized by a period of inactivity and a lowered metabolic rate. 

Considering that most penguins live in very cold conditions, they do not estivate. 

Animals that go into estivation are mollusks, crabs, crocodiles, some salamanders, mosquitoes, desert tortoises, the dwarf lemur, and some hedgehogs, but not penguins.

Final Thoughts

Penguins are cute-looking, warm-blooded mammals that do not hibernate or enter any other state of dormancy. Instead, they remain active and undertake long, tiring, and extremely difficult migrations to reach the place to breed.

Most penguins travel by land, but some will swim over 50 miles per day to reach their hatching destination. When they get there, the male will take care of the egg, for about two months while the female goes to feed; then she returns, and the male goes to find food. 

A few weeks later, he returns and both parents take care of the baby, feed it, and keep it off the ice. After the baby grows up, it will do the same migrations as its parents did.

Just like other animals, penguins neither get into torpor nor do they aestivate – they survive colder weather by migrating and staying active.

If you were pondering on the question “do penguins hibernate”, we hope this article removed all doubts.

Read More: Do Wild Turkeys Hibernate In Winter?

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