There are 17 species of penguins
some of which are found as far north as the equator. Penguins are categorized
into three families: brush-tail, crested, and king/emperor penguins. Of the 17
species only six are found in Antarctica (Adélies, Chinstraps, Emperors,
Gentoos, Macaronis, and Rockhoppers).
Adélie Pygoscelis adeliae
gentoo Pygoscelis papua
royal Eudyptes schlegeli
Fiordland crested Eudyptes
Snares Island Eudyptes
fairy (also known as little
blue) Eudyptula minor
African (formerly known as
black-footed) Spheniscus demersus
Some scientists recognize an
18th species: the white-flippered variety of fairy penguin, Eudyptula
Penguins often are referred to as "flippered flyers" due to their
effortless movement through the water and their possible evolution from
gull-like birds. Its believed that 40-50 million years ago, while Antarctica
breaking away form Gondwanaland, penguins also were separating to form their own
species. Originally, indigenous to warmer climates, penguins adapted to the cold
as Antarctica made its move southward.
Part of their adaptation to the cold includes oily, unwettable feathers which
cover the outer layers of penguins (and what gives that distinguished, well
dressed look). Underneath is a layer of soft down feathers and under that a
thick layer of fat. This keeps the penguins so warm they will actually fluff
their feather to released trapped heat in order to cool down.
In addition to their fine attire, penguins are well known for their swimming
abilities. Using their flippers for propulsion and their feet as a rudder,
penguins can swim in excess of 12 mph (20 kph). Through the use of air sacs to
protect their lungs, penguins can stay under water for 15 to 20 minutes and dive
as deep as 275 feet (900 meters).
In the water, penguins typically feed on krill and fish. The dietary habits of
penguins are relatively easy to monitor. Krill eating penguins excrete pink
quano, while those eating fish leave behind white guano. The yolks of penguins
eggs often are red denoting the consumption of krill.
Although very near-sighted on land, penguins posses exceptional vision in the
water. Their eyes, like the many sea animals, are attuned to the colors of the
sea--green, blue-green, and violet. They need this excellent vision to avoid
leopard seals and killer whales, which are their primary predators in the ocean.
On land their arch enemy are skuas (large birds) which snatch penguins chicks
1. The emperor penguin is the
largest of all living penguins, standing 1.1 m (3.7 ft.) and weighing 27 to 41
kg (60-90 lb.).
2. The smallest of the penguins
is the fairy penguin, standing just 41 cm (16 in.) and weighing about 1 kg (2.2
lb.). For a complete listing of sizes by species.
1 .The penguin body is fusiform
and streamlined, adapted for swimming A penguin has a
large head, short neck, and elongated body.
2. The tail is short and
3. The legs and webbed feet are
set far back on the body, which causes penguins to stand upright when on land (Marchant,
1. All adult penguins are
countershaded; that is they are dark on their dorsal (back) surfaces and white
on their ventral (underside) surfaces. The dark dorsal side blends in with the
dark ocean depths when viewed from above. The light ventral side blends in with
the lighter surface of the sea when viewed from below. The result is that
predators or prey do not see a contrast between the countershaded animal and the
2. Many species have distinct
markings and coloration.
a. The emperor has a black
head, chin, and throat with broad yellow ear patches on the sides of the head
b. The king penguin has a black
head, chin, and throat with vivid orange, tear-shaped ear patches. The orange
coloration extends to the upper chest (Marchant, 1990).
c. The Adélie has a black
head. Distinctive white eye rings appear during the breeding season (Marchant,
d. The gentoo has a black head
with white eyelids, and a distinct triangular white patch above each eye,
usually extending over the head (Marchant, 1990).
e. The top of a chinstrap's
head is black and the face is white, with a stripe of black extending under
f. The crested penguins (genus Eudyptes),
such as the rockhopper and macaroni, are distinguished by orange or yellow
feather crests on the sides of the head, above the eyes.
g. The yellow-eyed penguin, as
its name suggests, has yellow eyes and a stripe of pale yellow feathers
extending over its dark head.
h. The fairy penguin, also
known as the little blue, has slate-blue to black feathers and a white chin
i. Temperate penguins (genus Spheniscus),
such as the Humboldt and Magellanic, have unfeathered fleshy areas on the face
and one or two distinct black stripes across the chest.
3. Chicks, juveniles, and
immature penguins may have slightly different markings than adults. Generally,
they appear more drab. Adult markings take a year or longer to develop.
Adult penguins are countershaded; that is they are dark on their dorsal (back)
surfaces and white on their ventral (underside) surfaces. Picture here are
Wings are modified into
paddlelike flippers. The bones are much flattened and, broadened, with the joint
of elbow and wrist almost fused. This forms a rigid, tapered, and flat flipper
for swimming (Marchant, 1990). Each flipper is covered with short, scale-like
feathers. The long wing feathers typical of most birds would be too flexible for
swimming through water (Sparks and Soper, 1987).
1 . Different species of penguins
can be identified by their head and facial markings.
2. Penguins have a variety of
bill shapes which are used to capture fish, squid, and crustaceans. Generally,
the bill tends to be long and thin in species that are primarily fish eaters,
but shorter and stouter in those that mainly feed on krill (del Hoyo, et al.,
1992). The mouth is lined with horny, rear-directed spines to aid in swallowing
live prey (Marchant, 1990).
a. The color of irises varies
among the species.
(1) Many species have brown,
reddish-brown, or golden-brown eyes.
(2) Rockhopper and macaroni
penguins have red eyes.
(3) Fairy (little blue)
penguins have bluish-gray eyes.
(4) As their name implies,
yellow-eyed penguins have yellow eyes (Marchant, 1990).
b. The pupil of a penguin eye
is circular. When constricted, however, the pupil of the king penguin is
square (Welty, 1982).
c. Like many animals, penguins
have a nictitating membrane, sometimes called a third eyelid. This is a clear
covering that protects the eye from injury.
Legs and feet
1. Penguin legs are short and
strong. Feet are webbed, with visible claws. The legs are set far back on the
body to aid in streamlining and steering while swimming. This placement also
causes penguins to stand vertically and walk upright (Marchant, 1990).
2. Penguins walk with short steps
or hops, sometimes using their bills or tails to assist themselves on steep
climbs (del Hoyo, et al., 1992). The maximum walking speed for Adélie penguins
is 3.9 kph (2.4 mph). Emperors and kings walk slowly and do not hop. The maximum
speed for emperors is 2.8 kph (1.7 mph). Some species, like the rockhopper, jump
from rock to rock (Miller-Schwarze, 1984; del Hoyo, et al., 1992).
3. Antarctic species can move
much faster over ice by "tobogganing" on their bellies, using their
flippers and feet to help them move along (Simpson, 1976).
The tail is short and
wedge-shaped, with 14 to 18 stiff tail feathers. Members of the genus Pygoscelis
have longer tail feathers, which they often use as a prop when on land (Marchant,
Shiny, waterproof feathers overlap to cover a penguin's skin.
1. Shiny feathers uniformly
overlap to cover a penguin's skin (del Hoyo, et al., 1992). Feathers are highly
specialized-short, broad, and closely spaced, helping to keep water away from
the skin. Tufts of down on the feather shafts contribute to the insulative
properties of the feathers.
2. Penguins have more feathers
than most other birds, with about 70 feathers per square inch.
3. Most penguin species go
through one complete molt (shed their feathers) each year, usually after the
breeding season. The exception is the Galapagos penguin, which usually goes
through two molts annually (del Hoyo, et al., 1992).
a. Molting is an essential
function, as feathers wear out during the year. Feathers become worn when
penguins rub against each other, come in contact with the ground and water,
and regularly preen (clean, rearrange, and oil) their feathers (Sparks and
b. The new feather grows under
the old one, pushing it out. The old feather does not fall out until the new
one is completely in place. The molt is patchy and can give individual
penguins a scruffy look (del Hoyo, et al., 1992).
c. During the molt, feathers
lose some of their insulating and waterproofing capabilities, and penguins
stay out of the water until their plumage is restored to optimum condition
(del Hoyo, et al., 1992; Sparks and Soper, 1987).
d. Depending on the species,
the average length of the molt varies from 13 days for the Galapagos penguin
to 34 for the emperor penguin (del Hoyo, et al., 1992).
e. Because penguins don't enter
the water to feed during a molt, they fast. Before their molt, they build a
fat layer, which provides energy until the molt is over (del Hoyo, et al.,
1 . Generally, penguins are not
sexually dimorphic; males and females look alike. Crested penguins are
exceptions: the males are more robust and have larger bills (del Hoyo, et al.,
2. During the breeding season,
female penguins are sometimes identifiable by muddy footprints on their backs,
left by males during mating activity.
are flightless birds found in the Southern Hemisphere from the Antarctic
to the equator. There are 18 species of penguins in the southern water,
seven of them live around Antarctica.
The Adelie and emperor breed on the Antarctic shores and are
the only two species found in the Ross Sea area.
Chinstraps breed on
islands around Antarctica and gentoos are found from the Antarctic islands
to the sub-Antarctic.
Another three species (the King, rockhopper and
macaroni) live on the sub-Antarctic islands.
and Rockhopper Penguins
Because ice covers almost all
of Antarctica, penguins have to get all their food from the sea, where
they spend about half their time. They are able to dive very deeply
(emperors can dive to 250 meters) and all are excellent swimmers. The feet
and tail act as a rudder and the flippers as propellers. They feed mostly
on small fish and krill, each one captured individually. The penguins are
also food for other ocean predators: leopard seals and killer whales. On
land their main predator is the skua, a bird which takes both eggs and
penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus) provide a real wildlife spectacle on
the island of South Georgia, where 400,000 pairs breed. These birds were
photographed at Royal Bay, South Georgia
size: 11 2 cm (44 in.), 27 to 41 kg (60-90 lb.)
distribution: circumpolar on Antarctic continent within limits of pack-ice ; one
of two species restricted to the Antarctic (the other is the Adelie); generally
avoid open water beyond limits of floating ice
size: 94 cm (37 in.), 13.5 to 16 kg (30-35 lb.)
distribution: subantarctic islands and peninsulas usually forage in
ice-free waters ; mainly over shelf and slope areas . Most juveniles oceanic;
observed several hundred kilometers from nearest colony
size: 46 to 61 cm (1 8-24 in.), 3.6 to 4.5 kg (8-1 0 lb.)
distribution: circumpolar on Antarctic continent within limits of pack-ice ; is
restricted to the Antarctic (along with emperor penguins).
size: 61 to 76 cm (24-30 in.),
5.5 to 6.4 kg (12-14 lb.)
distribution: circumpolar in subantarctic and antarctic waters; avoid pack ice
and continental coasts, except near the Antarctic peninsula; usually remain near
breeding islands throughout year
size: 46 to 61 cm (1 8-24 in.), 4
kg (9 lb.)
distribution: antarctic and subantarctic islands
size: 41 to 46 cm (i 6-18 in.),
about 2.3 to 2.7 kg (5-6 lb.)
distribution: subantarctic islands
size: 51 to 61 cm (20-24 in.),
4.5 kg (1 0 lb.)
distribution: subantarctic islands in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans
size: 66 to 76 cm (26-30 in.),
5.5 kg (1 2 lb.)
distribution: Macquarie and Campbell Islands; also around the New Zealand coast
size: 61 cm (24 in.), 2.7 to 3 kg (6-7 lb.)
distribution: subantarctic islands and New Zealand
size: 63.5 cm (25 in.), 2.7 to
3.5 kg (6-7.7 lb.)
distribution: Australia; New Zealand; and Bounty, Campbell, and Auckland Islands
size: 63.5 cm (25 in.), 2.7 to 3
kg (6-7 lb.)
distribution: restricted to Snares Island, south of New Zealand
size: 76 cm (30 in.), 6 kg (1 3 lb.)
distribution: southeast New Zealand
size: 41 cm (16 in.), about 1 kg (2.2 lb.)
distribution: southern Australia and New Zealand
size: 61 to 71 cm (24-28 in.), 5
kg (11 lb.)
distribution: Falkland Islands and along the coast of Chile and Argentina
size: 56 to 66 cm (22-26 in.), 4 kg (9 lb.)
distribution: islands off the west coast of South America and along the coast of
Peru and Chile
size: 61 to 71 cm (24-28 in.), 3
kg (7 lb.)
distribution: South African waters
size: 53 cm (21 in.), 2.5 kg (5-6
distribution: Galapagos Islands, off the coast of Ecuador, almost astride the
equator; is the most northerly penguin species
of Washington,NOAA, British Antarctic Survey, Mark Terry
compiled from The British Antarctic Study, NASA, Environment Canada,
UNEP, EPA and other sources as stated and credited Researched by Charles
Welch-Updated daily This Website is a project of the The Ozone Hole Inc.
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