Penguins are built for life at sea

Object of the Month: 01/2007

What is it?:

Emperor penguin skull

Where was it collected:

Collected by SMM September 1991
Antarctica, via National Science Foundation/Kooyman

Penguin skull
Penguin skull

Emperor penguins live their entire lives in or near the icy waters around Antarctica. Evolution has shaped their bodies to survive in this harsh environment.

Look at the skull. Above the eye, you’ll see a pitted region, which once held the fleshy salt glands. All seabirds have these glands to remove excess salt from their system through the nostrils, mouth or beak.

The rest of the penguin’s skeleton also shows adaptations to life in Antarctica. While most flying birds have light, hollow bones, penguins have heavy, solid bones for diving. Flattened wing bones reduce resistance when moving through the water, and tightly connected elbow and wrist joints stiffen wings to push against water.