Do Penguins Have Knees?

Written by on October 8, 2013 in Marine Life, Penguins

A HUGE thank you to everyone who participated in our survey! Many of you have come up with great ideas for topics to cover on MST and this month I will be writing about those topics!

Here’s the first one: Do penguins have knees?

Turns out, they do!

Watching a penguin waddling around, it would be easy to assume they can’t bend their legs, but they can. A penguin’s leg has a short femur, knee, tibia, and fibula. The legs just look short and stubby because the upper leg is hidden by feathers. You can see the legs bent at the knees in the following photo of a Magellanic penguin skeleton.

Magellanic Penguin (Spheniscus magellanicus) skeleton.

Magellanic Penguin (Spheniscus magellanicus) skeleton. Photo credit: H. Zell.

Because that turned out to be a pretty short answer, here are some more fun facts about penguins:

  • There are about 40 species of flightless birds, including the emu, kiwi and penguin!
  • The largest subspecies of penguin is the Emperor penguin, standing 45 inches (114cm) tall and weighing up to 90 pounds (41kg).
  • The smallest species is the little blue penguin (sometimes called the fairy penguin), standing 10 inches (25cm) tall and weighing only 2.5 pounds (1.1kg).
  • The species with the largest population is the Macaroni penguin with an estimated 18,000,000 to 23,000,000 individuals.
  • The smallest population is New Zealand’s yellow-eyed penguin with only around 4,000 individuals.
  • The fastest species is the Gentoo penguin, which can reach top speeds of 22 mph (about 35 km/h).
  • There are 17 species of penguin (or up to 20, depending on who you ask) and 13 of them are either threatened or endangered.
  • The male penguin is usually the caretaker — he incubates the eggs while she goes out to feed.
  • Galapagos penguins are the only ones to ever venture into the northern hemisphere — all other speices can only be found in the southern hemisphere.
  • Every year, penguins shed their feathers and grow new ones. During this process, which takes about two or three weeks, the penguins can’t feed so they have to fatten themselves up beforehand.
  • Penguins spend about 75 percent of their lives in the water, but they give birth on land or ice.
  • It varies from species to species, but a penguin’s lifespan averages 15-20 years.
Molting African penguins (Spheniscus demersus).

Molting African penguins (Spheniscus demersus). Photo credit: Emily Tripp.


Also, (who knew?!) there is an entire book called “Do Penguins Have Knees?” which answers that and many other random questions that you didn’t even know you had. Check it out: Do Penguins Have Knees? An Imponderables Book


If you’re a penguin expert by now, take this fun Discovery News quiz: Brush Up on Your Penguin Facts.

Gentoo penguins.

Gentoo penguins. Photo credit: Lt. Elizabeth Crapo/NOAA.

Copyright © 2013 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .


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