National Geographic : 1952 Sep
IF, in some distant reincarnation, you should become an emperor penguin, the chilly month of July would find you squatting on an ice field in Stygian darkness with an egg on your feet-and very happy about it all, despite the 50°-below-zero bliz zard ruffling your feathers. Though the prospect may leave you cold, to be a penguin is to be a bird of distinction. Aristocrats of the bird world, penguins stand in a class by themselves as one of the four great superorders of birds. For as long as ships have sailed antarctic seas, penguins have fascinated the humans whom they so comically seem to resemble.* Magellan sighted strange "geese" near the Patagonian coast in 1520 in flocks so vast his five ships were easily provisioned with them. Today South Pole-bound explorers await their first sight of an Adelie penguin as a sure sign they are at last within the Antarctic Circle. The name "penguin" is thought by some to have originated with 17th-century Spanish navigators, who called the birds pinguinos, from pingiiigo, or "greasy one," because of the abundant fat which blankets their bodies. Others claim the term comes from the Welsh pen gwyn, or "white head"; while a third opinion suggests that the name is a corrup tion of "pin wing," a bird whose wings have been clipped. The penguin has been with us for a long time. More than a score of extinct forms have been identified from fossils. Giant Penguins Once Roamed the Earth Millions of years ago, when the Himalayas were beginning to rise out of the primordial land, truly gigantic penguins roamed parts of the earth. These gargantuan specimens, which flourished in the Age of Mammals, are thought to have reached five feet in height and to have weighed more than 200 pounds. Fossil remains of these creatures have been unearthed in New Zealand and on Seymour Island off Palmer Peninsula in Antarctica, while other important fragments have come to light in Argentina and Australia. Today ornithologists recognize six genera *See "Antarctica's Most Interesting Citizen," by Worth E. Shoults, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, February, 1932.