Penguins are primitive, flightless birds that are highly specialized for marine life. Most species look rather similar, being generally dark-blue or dark-gray on top with a white belly. Some species, however, have a crest on their head and/or patches of color on their head and throat. The legs are set wide apart and the wings are used as flippers. Most species of penguin live and breed on Antarctica, on islands near that continent, or on the southern coasts of South America, Australia, South Africa, or New Zealand. Four northern species inhabit the western coast of South America, as far north as the equatorial Galapagos Islands.
Penguins have unusual and distinct characteristics, and their relationship to other orders of birds is not fully understood. In fact, scientists dispute whether penguins should have their own superorder or even subclass. However, it is generally agreed that penguins belong to the Order Sphenisciformes and the family Spheniscidae. There are six genera of penguins and 16-18 species, depending on the taxonomic treatment.
Adaptations for marine life
Penguins have numerous adaptations to life in cold, marine conditions. The legs, effectively used as oars, are set wide apart and connect rather far back to the long and rounded body. Short, glossy feathers cover its body to
form a dense, fur-like matting, which is waterproof and helps keep the bird warm. Although all of the bones needed for flight are present in its wings, they are tightly bound to each other by ligaments and are shortened and flattened. Given these adaptations, the wings have become unfoldable flippers used in swimming. The muscles in the chest, which are used to move its wings, are proportionately quite large, extending from the neck to the lower portion of the abdomen. The triangular tail is used for steering while swimming.
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