How Do Penguins Stay Warm? (Explained for Beginners)

by Chukay Alex
Updated on

Penguins are flightless sea birds that can be generally found in the Southern Hemisphere, with a greater concentration on the Antarctic coasts and Sub Antarctic islands, basically one of the coldest places on planet Earth.

These sea birds are warm blooded and one way they can survive in their cold habitat is through their densely packed plumage.

They have lots of feathers that are densely arranged together all over their body.

In addition, there are oil producing glands in these feathers which keeps them waxy.

This feature keeps away cold water and constantly keep their body regulated even in very harsh conditions.

You will discover more on how penguins stay warm and dry in this article.

How Do Penguins Stay Warm and Dry?

How Do Penguins Stay Warm

Penguins are generally animals of the cold and they habituate in some of the most harshest and coldest environment in the world.

Despite that, they retain their body temperature even as warm blooded animals.

How do they do this?

  • Size:

To survive the cold weather, you have to be big (very big) and the penguins are masters of largeness.

The smallest penguins are still on the larger size, being about 2.5kg, and the largest weigh close to 30kg.

Larger animals tend to retain heat so the penguins often stay on the larger size to stay warm.

  • Overlapping densely packed plumage:

Another way penguins stay warm and dry is through their feathers.

You may wonder that feathers can only work for them on the land but there is a way their feathers can keep them warm and dry even in cold water.

In these densely packed feathers, there is an oil producing gland, more like a sub-cutaneous later of fat.

This layer of fat is what keeps their feathers oily and prevent water from seeping into their body, thus, keeping the penguins warm.

  • Huddling:

This behavior is common especially among emperor penguins, who live practically in the most extreme conditions for any warm blooded animal.

They huddle together in groups, usually comprising of several thousand birds.

This way, a penguin has another warm penguin for a shield. Huddling also helps the smaller penguins to keep warm too.

  • They possess circulatory systems for thermo regulation:

The body system of a penguin is made in a way that it conserves heat to keep them warm all the time.

Even the dark colored feathers at their back abdomen heat from the sun, to warm them up.

Penguins also keep their feet warm by standing in a way that their belly and feathers cover their legs and they rock gently back and forth on their feet to keep them from getting frozen.

Even their diet is another means of keeping them warm. Penguins generally feed on fishes, squids, krill and so on, which gives them enough energy to produce heat.

Related: Here is an article I wrote on how do penguins sleep?

Do Penguins Get Wet?

Penguins do not get wet. For birds that spend virtually all their time in water, sleeping, eating and swimming, they stay warm and dry. How?

Penguins have lots of feathers that are densely packed together covering their body.

These feathers contains an oil producing gland that makes their feather waxy and this repel the cold water, keeping them dry.

Why Do Penguins Huddle?

Emperor penguins, usually found in the Antarctica, are known for huddling and they do this for warmth.

When the Antarctic temperature becomes too harsh, you will find these penguins moving from one place to another to maximize their warmth, and the huddle takes more like an oblong shape.

Often times, each penguin is only trying to help itself, but all penguins benefit, as the cold eventually becomes shared equally over the whole huddle instead of being concentrated at just one point.

Are Penguins Cold Blooded or Warm Blooded?

Penguins are warm blooded animals.

Before explaining how penguins came to be warm blooded, I think you should know the concepts of warm blooded and cold blooded.

Whenever an animal’s temperature changes according to its environment’s temperature, that animals is cold blooded. Examples are insect, reptiles, fishes and amphibians.

Warm blooded animals, on the other hand, maintain a high temperature irrespective of their external temperature. Examples are birds and mammals.

Now, penguins are birds, and they do a great job at maintaining their temperature irrespective of the climate they might find themselves in.

Thus, they are warm blooded animals.

Also check out this article on how do penguins mate?

How Do Penguins Feet Stay Warm?

Penguins keep themselves warm through the insulating layers beneath in their thick plumage.

However, their webbed feet are always in contact with the icy snow so how then do they keep their feet from being frozen?

Varieties of penguins have special adaptations to keep their feet warm, for instance, Emperor penguins hunch down in a way that their bellies and feathers cover their legs, and they move gently back to forth on their heels to keep their feet off the ground.

Asides that, a penguin can control the rate at which blood flows to the feet from the arterial vessels supplying the blood.

During cold conditions, the flow of blood is reduced to bring  and sustain heat in the feet.

Britannica also explains more on how penguins keep their feet warm during cold seasons.

Do Penguins Hibernate?

Penguins do not hibernate.

Many animals have adapted the style of curling up in a safe place and sleeping all through winter, but not penguins. These adorable flightless sea birds spend their lives in the extreme cold.

Rather than hibernating, some penguin species would migrate.

The food penguins eat, does it help them stay warm?

Penguins diet consist of fishes, shrimps, squids and krill, generally marine, since they spend most their time on sea.

The best thing is, these foods actually keep them warm.

These foods are great sources of vitamins and minerals to give them energy. In addition, marine foods provides omega-3, which constantly regulates the temperature of penguins.


There are basically four species of penguins that live in Antarctica: Emperor, Gentoos, Adelies, and Chinstrap penguins.

All these birds have special adaptations that keep them warm and dry even during very cold seasons.

Emperor penguins have about four layers of densely packed feathers that gives them protection from wind, and thick layers of fat that traps enough heat inside their body.

They also have a body structure that helps them retain heat .

You have as well, learnt that huddling is another way to minimize how much their body is exposed in the cold season.

According to, the largest huddle ever recorded had close to 5000 penguins.

Penguins do not get wet. They have a coating of glands that produces oil, which  keeps their feathers waxy and repels water, keeping them dry even when they are in cold water.

They even have specially arranged veins and arteries in their body parts which event distributes heat all over their body.

Another thing is that penguins migrate instead of hibernating.

As the temperature rises and falls, most penguins move from one place to another and they do this a lot during the breeding season, when finding their mate.

Conclusively, penguins have their own way of thermos regulating, which they do quite well. We can only help them by managing and taking immediate action on climate change.

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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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