Father Christmas and His Penguins

As everybody knows Father Christmas, otherwise known as Santa Claus lives at the North Pole.  This is unless you are Norwegian in which case he lives in Drøbak.  Or Danish, in which case the jolly chap is a resident of Greenland.  Or Finnish, in which case you just know that beyond reasonable doubt, Santa lives in Lapland. 

Either way he lives in a really cold place.  Penguins also live in a really cold place.  They often depicted as cute and fluffy and so make an ideal extra character for Christmas decorations.  The sight of a pretty penguin dressed in a bright red hat is sure to bring on the festive cheer.  Except for one small problem – Penguin’s don’t live anywhere near Santa Claus house (wherever it may be).

A Long Way From Home.

The Penguin, as ornithologists well know, is a native of the southern hemisphere.   Though often thought of as a native of Antarctica, Penguins are also present in significant populations in Chile, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, among other places.  As a result, any Penguin roaming free near the North pole (or alternatively northerly countries) is either lost or has escaped from a zoo.

They would also have a very difficult time reaching the North pole – Penguins are flightless birds but are superbly adapted instead for aquatic life.  Instead of wings, they have evolved flippers which allow them to move expertly through the water. A layer of air is kept under their plumage, keeping them warm in the freezing waters off Antarctica.  Typically the larger varities of Penguin can hunt and dive deeper than their smaller brethren, with Emperor Penguins being known to make dives of up to 500 meters and staying underwater for over 20 minutes.

Penguin’s aren’t likely to run into Polar Bears, being in the wrong hemisphere for the most part.  But they do have predators of their own. Orca’s and Leopard Seals, amongst other species prey on Penguins.    This is, in part, the reason for a Penguin’s striking waistcoat like pattern.  The dark backs and fins appear, from above to be indistinguishable from the blackness of the deep ocean while the bright white belly appears to the eyes of an aquatic predator like the water distortion of the surface. 

But At Least They’re Real

None of these predators however are able to hunt Penguin’s on the surface with any success meaning that as a result the birds have no natural land based predators.  This has made them, as a species, oddly courageous frequently approaching human explorers in their isolated habitats without fear. 

Regardless of their apparent friendliness, they certainly aren’t inclined to get up to Santa’s grotto in time for Christmas.  The idea of Penguins in the Arctic remains nothing more than the misinformed fantasies of certain artists and writers, along with elves, flying reindeer and jolly fat men in red suits delivering presents around the world.  




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