Formal Attire Optional: Penguins welcome visitors to cool WOW home

Formal Attire Optional: Penguins welcome visitors to cool WOW home

The weather across the Arkansas and Missouri Ozarks has been pretty frightful — and if you hate the heat, Johnny Morris’ Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium just might be a delightful getaway. The whole 350,000-square-foot “experience” next to Bass Pro Shops in Springfield, Mo., is air conditioned, of course, and offers 1.5 miles of immersive 4-D trails to explore; 35,000 live fish, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and birds to see; and 1.5 million gallons of freshwater and saltwater habitats where you can touch a stingray, traverse an underwater tunnel surrounded by river monsters and plunge to the depths of the ocean among spectacular sharks.

Or you can visit the penguins — where it’s 43 degrees in their habitat and about the same temperature for guests.

The aquarium, envisioned by Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris, opened in September 2017, and the penguins were added that December. Asked why penguins, Assistant Curator Shawn Styrcula asks: “Why not penguins?”

“Penguins are a guest favorite across many zoos and aquariums, so we thought it would be ‘cool’ to bring them to ours,” Styrcula says. A species called “Gentoo,” the WOW penguins are acclimated to cold weather like that found in Antarctica, “so we always must make sure their habitat is staying at an appropriate temperature and humidity — one thing that Southwest Missouri has a lot of is heat and humidity,” Styrcula says. “They have their own cooling unit and dehumidifier to ensure their habitat is kept nice and cool below 45 degrees and low humidity.

“Penguins need plenty of room to swim and places to get out of the water,” he explains about creating their habitat. “They need rockwork or other visual and physical barriers that they can separate themselves from each other if they want to. Gentoo penguins also build their nests out of rocks/pebbles, so we provide plenty of them for that.

“The penguin’s favorite enrichment is bubbles,” he adds. “They love to chase them and pop them with their beaks. They also get a variety of other items to stimulate natural behaviors such as fish broadcasts in the water and small toys they can manipulate or investigate. During the wintertime, when snow amounts allow, the penguins sometimes get to go outside and hang out, too.”

Penguins fit into the mission of WOW because they are “a wonder of nature,” Styrcula says. “They show the amazing adaptations that animals have to live in their environments, in this case a cold, frigid land where they must swim to catch their food. They help to promote a message of conserving nature for future generations.”

Styrcula says the penguins are “definitely interested” in their keepers, especially at feeding time, which prepares them for interaction with the public during the Penguin Encounters.

“There are some that are more social than others and like to hang out or follow the keepers around when we’re in there,” he says, and “some can be quite ornery. During weekly scuba dive cleanings, they like to investigate what we’re doing in the water.

“With our Penguin Encounter, guests get to enter our penguin habitat and watch one of their feeds,” Styrcula explains. “The keepers do a short educational chat about penguins and our colony specifically, then answer any penguin questions they might have. Guests will get to experience all the sights, sounds, smells, and cold temperatures of the habitat our penguins call home.”

Just recently, WOW has been voted “America’s Best Aquarium” for the fourth time through a national public poll conducted by USA TODAY. “The poll ranks the top 20 prominent institutions across North America, and the fourth win by the conservation-based museum and aquarium is unprecedented in the history of this prestigious national award,” says a WOW press release.

“We are honored by this recognition and so grateful to our guests, members and fans for their votes and support,” says Morris. “At Wonders of Wildlife, our talented team is driven by a collective passion for conservation and educating the next generation of outdoor enthusiasts. We are very grateful to all of the countless individuals and organizations who share a strong passion for conservation.”



Wonders of Wildlife

National Museum & Aquarium

WHEN — 9 a.m.-7 p.m. daily

WHERE — 500 W. Sunshine St. in Springfield, Mo.

COST — $19.50-$44.50


FYI — Pricing for the 30-45 minute Penguin Encounter starts at $30; admission to WOW is not included. Make reservations at

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