By Scott A. Rowan
What do penguins eat?
Without any teeth, penguins are forced to feed on smaller prey that they can eat in one gulp.
Unlike other animals, like sharks, that can take multiple bites out of a larger prey item, such as a dead whale, penguins have to feed on animals that are small enough to be eaten at one time such as small fish and krill.
In the wild, krill is a major part of a penguin’s diet. In addition to the tiny crustaceans, penguins also eat small fishes, like sardines, as well as squid and cuttlefish.
In captivity, penguins have a similar diet without the abundance of krill. Krill can be difficult for zoos and aquariums to feed animals because krill are very tiny and alive, meaning that a great deal of effort must be dedicated just to maintaining large quantities of krill for the animals. Consequently, many zoos and aquariums have to replace the lack of krill in the diet with other animals.
Capelin and herring are two popular small fish that many institutions use to feed penguins.
Penguins are self-regulating eaters, which means that when they are full they will stop feeding. Consequently, it can be relatively easy for zoos and aquariums to make sure penguins have enough to eat. They simply need to keep feeding them until they’re done.
To make sure that each penguin eats a full diet, the birds are often given bands on a wing with an identifying number. When trainers feed the penguins they carefully record how many fish each penguin eats to make sure that all individuals have eaten their fill.
In captivity, penguins are usually fed twice per day. Penguins will average approximately five fish per meal or 10 per day. The number of fish can vary from species to species, but experienced trainers have said that Magellanic penguins will eat closer to 20 fish per day while rockhopper penguins eat about half that or 10 fish per day.
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