Why do penguins look like they are wearing tuxedoes?
I was asked this question when I was in second grade as a creative writing assignment. I came up with a fanciful story about a penguin who was invited to a wedding for his friend the polar bear (I know now that penguins and polar bears don’t live together, but think of it as a destination wedding). So he got all dressed up in a tux and had a great time dancing the night away. On his walk home he fell through a hole in the ice into the icy cold water. He got out unfazed (he’s a penguin of course he didn’t mind the cold water) and continued home.
Once home and being so tired from a night of dancing, the penguin just flopped into his bed with his tux still on. He woke up the next morning to find he couldn’t get his tux off; it had frozen to him overnight. The penguin was so worried that his friends would make fun of him but the exact opposite happened. All the other penguins thought he looked so cool that they all started putting on their tuxedos and jumping into the icy water. Before long the entire colony was wearing their tuxedos permanently.
Now this is a very cute story, and I got an A, but exactly why do penguins have black and white feathers, making them look like they are wearing tuxedos?
Their feather pattern is a form of camouflage called countershading, which is used to help them hide them from predators as well as their prey in the water. Countershading works from above by blending the penguin's black back into the dark ocean bottom and from below by blending the white belly into the bright surface of the water.
Watch as our penguins swim over a black mat on the bottom of the exhibit, the black feathers blend in so well they seem to disappear!
This is such an effective form of camouflage that you will find it utilized by many aquatic animals with darker colors on their back and lighter colors on their fronts, including many animals that you will find in the Aquarium. The next time you are at the Aquarium try to find examples of countershading!