Can Penguins Eat Vegetables? (Answered)

by Chukay Alex
Updated on

Penguins are sea birds who are usually found around oceans and lakes. Most often you see penguins diving into the water and coming out with seafood hung in their beaks.

People have asked if penguins can eat other food aside from seafood such as vegetables.

Penguins can and do not eat vegetables as they are predominantly carnivores who rely on fish from the ocean to survive.

Penguins’ systems are not designed to digest plants and they eat seafood to build up their fat reserves.

We will delve into the diet of penguins, whether they should eat vegetables, how they eat, what foods they like among other questions.

Should Penguins Eat Vegetables?

Can Penguins Eat Vegetables

Penguins do not and should not eat vegetables. The reason for this is that penguins have always survived on fish, krill, squids and other seafood.

These seafood are what gives the penguins the needed fat reserves they require to survive.

Penguins are typically carnivores i.e. they survive on a meat diet which consists of basic seafood and small fish in the ocean.

There are about 19 species of penguins in the world and no species is known to feed on vegetation, plankton or seaweed.

Some of these species such as the emperor species live in Antarctica and require large amounts of fat reserves to get through the harsh winters. 

Related: Here is an article I wrote on can penguins jump

What Are The Health Benefits Of Vegetables?

Vegetables are quite nutritious and possess a lot of health benefits to both humans and animals. Some of the health benefits we can get from vegetables include:

  • Vitamins, vegetables contain a lot of vitamin nutrients and supplements including Vitamin K, C and A.
  • Dietary Fibre
  • Folate
  • Potassium
  • Iron
  • Calcium
  • Magnesium
  • Antioxidants
  • Low fat and calorie levels

These are all health benefits of vegetables to numerous species of animals and even humans all around the world.

However, vegetables do not provide nutrition for penguins as their bodies are not designed to digest plants and as such they cannot extract nutrients from eating them.

Penguins on a vegetable diet can be disastrous as they require high levels of fat to survive in the harsh weather conditions in which they thrive.

Even in captivity, penguins are mostly hand fed cut or whole fish as that is their main diet. 

Are Penguins Carnivores?

Penguins are carnivores, meaning they eat krill, crabs, squid, fish, and other seafood as their major diet. 

When penguins are active in the summer, a medium-sized penguin can consume up to 2 pounds of food per day.

This is done to build up their body fat as reserves for winter. During winter they do not consume as much food as they might spend most of their time sleeping. 

Most species eat about one-third of the amount of food they eat during the summer in the winter.

For penguin species such as the Emperor penguin, building fat reserves is quite important for the males as this is a determinant of mate selection.

Female emperor penguins make the choice of partners and they are often on the lookout for fat males who can comfortably incubate their eggs throughout the winter.

The males have to rely on their body fat for about 2 to 3 months without eating.

How Do Penguins Eat?

Penguins fish in the deep ocean for their daily meals. For penguins to survive and thrive, a large bounty of seafood has to be available nearby.

This is why most penguin species are often found close to the water where they can easily hunt fishes.

Penguin species also differ slightly in their seafood preferences as some species such as the Adelie penguin prefer small krill while Chinstrap penguins focus on larger krill.

For birds that are carnivores, penguins do not have teeth for chewing their food, nor do they have a crop.

Penguins use their bills to catch prey and swallow the fish whole while swimming.

A penguin’s tongue is covered in spines with jaws which are powerful enough to grasp slippery prey.

Penguins possess a two-chambered stomach and food is first stored in the first chamber which is the proventriculus.

This is important so that penguins who have chicks can easily regurgitate the food for their chicks. 

The penguin’s have a gizzard which is where the main digestive processes take place. They also make use of to crush tougher materials and aid digestion.

Also check out this article I wrote on can penguins walk backwards

How Often Can Penguins Eat Vegetables

Penguins can and do not eat vegetables as it is not part of their native diet. As much as vegetables are healthy and nutritious, they offer no benefits to the penguins.

Vegetables are a low fat and calorie food and the penguins require a high fat diet.

They get this needed fat from seafood such as crabs, krill, and small fishes.

Without these seafood, the penguins would not be able to survive the winter and a large population of the penguins would perish.

Apart from winter, penguins also have to go on extended fasts while molting.

During this period they lose all their feathers so they are unable to go into the ocean to hunt for food.

They rely on fat reserves and can lose 20 to 40% of their weight.

A penguin that is not sufficiently fattened up can die during moulting if it runs out of fat. 

Can Penguins Eat Fruit?

Penguins cannot eat fruit. It is not part of their diet as they are mainly carnivores.

Researchers have exposed that penguins even have lost most of their taste receptors and cannot taste what they eat. 

As much as fruits and vegetables are healthy and nutritious, it is not just a diet for the penguins.

It would be really weird if you saw a penguin biting into an apple, a banana or an orange.

Even in captivity, penguins are not fed fruits or vegetables, they are mostly hand fed whole or cut fish.

They are also given regular supplements with the aim of providing them with an all round diet.

What Do Penguins Like To Eat The Most?

Some of the seafood which are preferred by penguins include:

  • Fishes

Fishes are the main diet of penguins. All penguins consume small fish, though some might consume more than others.

Penguins make use of their powerful beaks and backward-facing barbs on their tongues to catch fish. They prefer fishes such as sardines, anchovies and herring.

  • Krill

Krill are shrimp-like creatures that are about 2 inches in length and can be found all over the world’s oceans.

Some species of penguins such as the Adelie, Chinstrap and Macaroni penguins eat krill as their major food source. They require large amounts of krill to survive,

  • Crustaceans 

Adult and larger penguins who can dive deeper into the ocean are known to hunt for crustaceans such as crabs and shrimps.

They serve to make up a smaller part of the penguins diet. 

  • Cephalopods

Some penguin species such as the Emperor and Gentoo penguins love to hunt for cephalopods, especially squids and cuttlefish.

Once these species of seafood are in abundance during the summer, the penguins will feed more on them before they go with the season.

Penguins, even though they love all seafood, have particular preference for one type of seafood over the other depending on their species, location and abundance of seafood.

Do Penguins Eat Plankton

Penguins are known to eat plankton, basically the zooplankton.

Plankton are organisms that float in the water and can consist of small crustaceans, fish eggs, protozoans among other things.

Penguins like other large sea animals mainly eat plankton to supplement their diet. They can also feed on small plankton or lobster like animals for fun.

However their main diet remains fishes and krill. 


Vegetables as nutritious as they are do not provide nutritional benefits for penguins.

Penguins are predominantly carnivores and their diet consists of fish, krill, crabs, and other crustaceans which they require to survive.

Penguins do not possess teeth but they catch their prey with their strong beaks and with the help of barbs on their tongue, they are able to swallow the fish whole. 

They have a two-chambered stomach which has the proventriculus and the gizzard which carries out the food digestion process.

Penguins also feed on plankton and the seafood preferences of penguins can differ based on size, location and species.

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About the author

Chukay Alex

Chukay is a season writer and farmer who enjoys farming and growing plants in his backyard farm. When he is not farming you can find him at the nearest lawn tennis court, hitting a mean backhand down the line.


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