Do penguins have any predators? What are predators? How do penguins escape predators? How do penguins defend themselves? Do penguins have marine predators as well?
As we know that penguins are flightless birds and they cannot escape predators by flying. Their wings are adapted for swimming rather than flying. Penguins face a lot of survival issues especially in the marine environment. On land, they not only protect themselves but also their chicks and eggs. Many predators are interested only in eating eggs and chicks and they are not intended to kill adult penguins. Penguins make special kinds of threat calls and make others aware of predators.
Like all other birds, penguins are also part of the food chain and they are also at risk of their predators who always want to eat them. Their predators chase them in order to kill and hunt them. In this way, these predators try to gratify their hunger as well as to feed their children. Every living being needs some food source or the source of energy which makes it alive. Only weaker and sick penguins are caught by the predators.
There are basically two kinds of predators.
- Land predators.
- Water predators.
Land predators can be further subdivided into three types.
- The predators who attack from above, like Antarctic skuas or predatory gulls, sheathbills (Chionididae) and seagulls.
- The enemies who attack on land like rats, ferrets, snakes, lizards, mustelids, cats and dogs, etc.
- Some parasites also act as predators although they are not life threatening but they do harm the penguins in one or the other way. They include lice, mite and fleas which cause illness and infections.
As we know that penguins are the marine birds. They have to swim, porpoise and dive in water to get their food and stay alive. Penguins eat seafood. On the other hand, they sometimes also get eaten by bigger marine animals like leopard seals, orcas, fur seals, sea lions, sharks, or killer whales.
This leopard seal (Hydrurga leptonyx) is one of the primary predators of penguins.
These seals can exist even on ice. They wait for their prey and keep themselves hidden under ice flows. Leopard seals are the biggest threat for penguins of Antarctica. There are only a few killer whales that attack on penguins. Most of the whales are not known to prey on penguins. It is not easy for the marine predators to attack on penguins because they fly in groups and at very high velocities.
As we have discussed earlier, there are three different kinds of land predators of penguins.
- The predators who attack from above include giant petrel, skuas, etc. These include all the animals who not only attack the penguins but also attack their eggs and chicks. There is also a big advantage of these birds as they filter out the sick and diseased penguins, so they help in keeping the population healthy and flourishing. Giant petrel is one of the penguins who attack from above. The petrel resembles Albatross in appearance. He has a sharp bill which is helpful in tearing the flesh of penguins. So this bill helps them in catching their prey. They mostly attack Adelie penguins and their chicks. They wait for the young Adelie penguins at sea who come there in high summers. While roaming around carelessly, they suddenly attack on young chicks and take them away. These petrels possess remarkable and elegant ability to fly. They seem almost weightless over the water. During the hunt, they can fly hundreds of kilometers. Petrels eat their prey in a very cruel way. They tore the bird’s neck apart. Sometimes, the parent penguin is sick and wounded due to the attack of leopard seal and he is incapable of looking after his weak chicks. Moreover, the petrels are also swarming about in the air during the breeding season. It makes it easier for petrels to attack sick chicks keeping the population safe as their parents are also unable to repel the attack. Rarely, petrels attack wounded penguins instead of killing their chicks. But mostly, this doesn’t happen. So this was all about petrels.
I will also discuss skuas or predatory gulls. Skuas attack in pairs because they are very cowardly and feared predators. Penguins usually stretch their necks and show anger when they see them. Like petrels, skuas not only attack chicks and eggs, but they also try to chase and kill the sick adult penguins. Skuas use strange tactics to annoy the adult penguins. As they attack in pairs, the first one flies just out of reach around a breeding penguin and then other steals his chicks or eggs. On this, Penguin gets so irritated and annoyed that he starts chasing the skuas. This is the golden chance for skuas to attack a lonely penguin and the two penguins share their prey by killing this single penguin. As we know, the major food source for skuas is chicks and eggs, then the question arises that what do they eat when there is no breeding season? Still they get a very fresh and warm meal. They use a special trick. They search for the wounded penguin who is unable to take care of himself and even cannot ascend fast due to his weight and weakness. When skuas find such a penguin, they at once understand that this sea bird is not able to avoid their heavy attack. They try to grab such penguins by attacking them heavily and unknowingly. As a result, they get a very delicious meal although it sounds disgusting to us.
Now I will discuss another predator of penguins called Sheathbills. They are as large as small chicken with many of their characteristics like fear of water and heights. How can then they attack penguins? They can only attack on wounded penguins and abandoned eggs. They are often referred as the cleaning team of the penguins’ colony. They have white feathers and a sharp bill. Sheathbills also try to steal the food of a feeding penguin. It is not possible for them to feed primarily on penguins, so they also feed on garbage and carrion.
There are also a lot of seagulls that look for abandoned eggs and chicks. Penguins consider them a big danger for their survival and leave their nests if they find any seagull in their vicinity. So the only option left behind for seagulls is to attack on eggs and chicks.
- Let’s move on to another type of land predators of penguins. This includes natural land predators as well as the predators introduced by man. Four penguin species breed on the mainland : namely the African, humboldt, magellanic and the fairy little penguins. Many land predators threatened them especially the leopards are dangerous for African penguins. Similarly, armadillos attack mainly on magellanic penguins.
- Parasites are also harmful for penguins. Parasites known to occur in the blood of penguins include haemosporidian protozoans (Plasmodium, Leucocytozoon, Haemoproteus), piroplasmida protozoans (Babesia), kinetoplastid protozoa (Trypanosoma), spirochete bacteria (Borrelia) and nematode microfilariae.
How Do Penguins Protect Themselves From Enemies (Predators)
Penguins face a lot of problems due to predators like marine mammals, flying birds and artificially introduced animals like cats and dogs.
- Penguins live in the form of large colonies. This provides them protection against enemies in the air, on land and underwater. As we know, penguins show huddling behavior which also discourages straggling from the colony. Penguins also provide warning to one another if they find any predators in their vicinity.
- The distinct black and white coloring of penguins is a type of camouflage called counter shading. When viewed from above, the dorsal black side of penguins get mixed with seawater. Similarly for the predators inside water, the white color of penguins gets merged with sky and water and penguins get blended with the bright surface of the ocean.
- Penguins also protect themselves by tobogganing. They can slide on their bellies and immediately enter into the water when they see land predators like wild dogs, feral cats, rats and predatory birds.
- Penguins spend most of their lives in sea. So they are exposed to a large number of marine predators. High velocities of penguins make them safe. Some penguins attain so high speeds and can swim up to 22 miles per hour. Moreover, they take very sharp turns in order to be unreachable. Penguins also use another technique called porpoising. By using this technique, a penguin jumps out of the water at high speed. He suddenly vanishes from the sight of its marine predator.
This was all about predators of penguins. This topic is very interesting. A predator is an animal that eats other animals. Penguins are predators of fish, squid and krill. But being part of the food chain, penguins are also at the risk of being eaten by some enemies, although penguins have very diversified mechanisms to escape from predators.