Penguins are one of the most loved creatures in the world, and many cartoon characters, plushies, and fuzzy pajamas are proudly emblazoned with the image of this beloved sea bird. People have adored this tuxedo-feathered friend for many years and will continue to love them for many more!
But how many years can a penguin live to enjoy this worldwide fame? And how old was the oldest penguin ever recorded? To answer these questions, we first need to know just how many kinds of penguins are out there, and not to spoil the surprise, but the answer is a lot!
How Many Kinds of Penguins are There?
There are eighteen universally recognized species of penguins worldwide, according to scientific experts. While all penguins sport the recognizable black and white plumage this bird is known for, each possesses unique characteristics that set them apart from the other.
Penguin Species and Natural Habitats
Penguins are found in the Southern Hemisphere, and while most species are located primarily in various warm and cold regions. Only the King and Adélie species reside on the continent of Antarctica. Most penguins breed on the Antarctic Peninsula or surrounding Sub-Arctic islands. Except for some penguin species that reside in temperate zones and the Galapagos penguin. The Galapagos is the only species to live close to the equator.
The eighteen recognized penguin species are:
Northern Rockhopper Penguins
Southern Rockhopper Penguins
While there may be as many as twenty-three species of penguins, only the above is officially recognized.
The Penguin Basics
Penguins are flightless marine birds with a stocky build and short legs, ranging from 14 inches to 45 inches in height and between one and 90 pounds in weight depending on the species. In addition to their highly recognizable black and white plumage, some species may have red or yellow markings. Their feathers are slick, dense, and watertight, enabling this bird to swim freely without being weighed down in the water. Their wings more resemble flippers and fit close to the body to allow for fast and efficient propulsion through the water.
The Lifetime Of A Penguin
Penguins are carnivores and consume a diet of primarily fish, krill, and cephalopods. A large penguin colony is capable of consuming several tons of food a day, with smaller penguins choosing to hunt the small fish and krill, while larger members of the species such as the Emperor prefer to hunt larger fish.
Love, Hatchlings, and Mating For Life!
Though the specific breeding patterns of each species of penguin differ in many ways, penguins select one mate for their entire lives, only choosing another if their partner dies. Mates are selected using complex vocal calls and, in some species, even intricate dances are employed to attract a partner. Penguin mates tend to incubate their eggs together with the notable exception of the Emperor penguin, where the male incubates the egg while the female seeks food, returning to feed the hatchling from her own body through regurgitation.
After the first molting when young penguins grow their adult plumage, the juvenile is considered an adult and leaves the colony to find food for itself.
How Long Do Penguins Live?
The expected lifespan of a penguin depends on its species, but the average expected lifespan is between 6 to 30 years. Smaller penguin species such as the Gentoo or the Rockhopper have shorter expected lifespans of around 13 years, while larger members of the species such as the King or Emperor may live for close to 30 years.
However, even among the smaller species, some penguins have the distinction of living well into their forties!
The Oldest Penguins Ever
The oldest penguin ever lied to be 46 years old! Turns out, three notable penguins have some impressive lifespans! It’s time to meet Oma, Olde, and Mochica. One of these is the officially recognized Oldest Living Penguin, according to the Guinness Book Of World Records!
Oma: The World’s Oldest Penguin Ever Recorded
The oldest documented penguin was a 46-year-old King penguin named Oma, which translates to Grandma in English. She was a longtime resident of the Wuppertal Zoo in Germany. She was social, with an active social life among her fellows in the penguin enclosure. Oma even found a new partner in 2018. Oma was hatched in South Africa from an egg collected in Antarctica. She was one year old in 1975. This is when she and eleven other penguins became the first to live at the Wuppertal Zoo. There, she contributed to one of the largest and most successful penguin breeding groups in Europe. Oma hatched three little chicks of her own!
Rest In Peace, Oma
Unfortunately, Oma had significant health problems that could not be improved with veterinary treatment. The Wuppertal Zoo made the difficult and heartbreaking decision to ease Oma’s passing by putting her to sleep. The elderly penguin was unable to move freely without pain and was neglecting to eat. She was also finding it hard to interact with her fellow penguins. In an act of profound respect and compassion, the staff said goodbye to Oma in November of 2020. She is missed.
Mochica, Elder Statesman of The Oregon Zoo
The Statesman may not have been the oldest penguin ever, but 31 years is still impressive. He was the oldest Humbolt penguin on record. He was referred to by the staff of the Oregon Zoo as the Elder Statesman of his colony. Mochica got the nickname because he was known to prefer human company, and the feelings were mutual! The Elder Statesman was well-loved by thousands of people during his long life.
Saying Goodbye to A Statesman
Unfortunately, his advanced age caused Mochica to suffer from significant health problems as well. The compassionate staff of the Oregon Zoo was compelled by the same compassion Oma’s caretakers felt. His caretakers made the respectful choice to put Mochica to sleep rather than allow him to live on in pain. This was an act of deep love and care for an animal they loved deeply. His legacy lives on as a representative of the Humboldt penguin species.
A legacy that will support the conservation and preservation of his species for many years to come.
How Old is The Oldest Penguin Alive Today?
The oldest living penguin today is a 41-year-old Danish lady named Olde. Just like Oma, her name translates to Great Granny in English!
Olde is a Gentoo penguin that hatched on May 16th, 1979, at the Edinburgh Zoo in Scotland. She lived here for over a year. Then she moved to the Sub-Polar Region exhibit at the Biodôme located in Montreal, Canada. She lived there for twenty-three years, and in 2003 was relocated to the Odense Zoo in Denmark.
According to the zoo’s social-media officer Danni Larson, she is well loved. “Our zookeepers are professionals and as such, they don’t have favorites. But I think it’s safe to say that Olde holds a special place in their animal-loving hearts.”
Olde Doesn’t Let Fame Spoil Her(Much!)
Olde’s caretakers report that she is not a huge fan of publicity or fame. She is content to spend her days in the easy company of her fellow penguins. However, she does enjoy a few celebrity rewards according to her human handlers!
“She likes herring, which is a bit unusual for gentoos. It’s positive, though, as herrings are rich in fat, which means she gets what she needs, even if she isn’t as hungry as she once was.”
She’s the Official Guinness World Record Holder!
Olde was officially recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the World’s Oldest Penguin in October of 2020. Danny Larson released this statement to the public regarding the good news:
“The process of getting her recognized by Guinness World Records has been a talking point both among zookeepers and in the office, and we’re proud of Olde and the care the zookeepers give to her, as with all our penguins.”
Olde is currently in good health and has hatched sixteen chicks over her impressive lifetime. Her genetic linage can now be found much further than her home country of Scotland. Olde has grandchildren in Ireland, Spain, the Netherlands, Canada, and the USA as well!
Penguins Need More Protection
Penguins of all species are the second most threatened seabird in the world. Ten recognized penguin species are on the Endangered Species list. Emperor penguins are Near Threatened and the Rockhopper and Chinstrap are Vulnerable.
The threat penguins face is overwhelming. The impact of environmental changes on penguin habitats is causing geological changes. These changes have drastically increased over time, and are permanent. Pollution and climate change are the main cause of these changes, and affect the world ecosystem.
Other threats to the survival of penguins are disease, becoming trapped in commercial fishing nets, and the introduction of non-native predators. Threats like these have solutions that can produce dramatic improvements more quickly.
For threats like pollution and climate change, there is no quick solution. It will take the dedicated long-term efforts of conservationists worldwide to preserve what remains of penguin habitats. Many conservation efforts worldwide are fighting on behalf of all eighteen species of penguins to classify them as protected species.
Anyone Can Be A Penguin Protector!
There are many ways of supporting the conservation of penguins worldwide. You can help by fundraising or by donating to Birdlife International, or other conservation and research efforts worldwide.
There are other ways you can help protect penguins that only require a bit of your spare time! You can join Penguin Watch as a citizen scientist. Citizen scientists help count penguins using satellite images from home. If you like making clothing, you can help by knitting a penguin jacket for the Penguin Foundation!