Penguin species of Antarctica

Penguin species of Antarctica

Penguins are the signature animals of the Antarctic and these charismatic little creatures are a delight to watch. There are 17 species of penguins on the planet and 7 of them can be found in Antarctica.  

These are the Emperor, Adelie, Gentoo, Chinstrap, Marconi, and Rockhoppers, and King species.  

The penguins of Antarctica

The penguins of Antarctica

These 7 species of penguin are well adapted to the chilling cold of Antarctica. Their oily feathers give them a sleek look and do not allow water to pass through their skin. In fact, underneath the outer feather, there is a layer of fat that keeps the penguins warm.  

These flightless birds are designed to swim. There are very quick in the water, often reaching a speed of 25 mph. Most of them like to feed on krill, fish, squid, and crabs.

On land, they are known for their awkward waddling and weak vision. However, once they dive underwater, their eyesight becomes incredibly good.  

Penguins love to socialize and their rookeries often exceed a million birds in total. Most of the penguin species like to congregate on rocky landscapes and beaches.  

Find out all about these 7 iconic penguins species found in Antarctica: 

1. Emperor penguins 

Emperor penguins are the ‘classy’ type and the most commonly recognized species.  

Although they might look small from afar, they are the largest penguins out of all. Emperor penguins reach a height of around 4 feet and weigh at least 100 pounds. This leaves them towering over the rest of the penguin species.

An Emperor penguin with a chick

An Emperor penguin with a chick

Emperor penguins are easy to identify, as they have some picturesque markings. Aside from donning the typical black and white penguin tuxedo, they have bright yellow and orange fluffs around the head, neck, and chest. 

These penguins can usually be found in the Wedell region especially on Snow Hill Island and the Ross sea. Emperor penguins rarely head to the sub-Antarctic waters. Emperor penguins use communities to get through the Antarctic cold. They huddle together for warmth and often shift take shifts standing outside of the huddle. 

Emperor penguins are the only species that breed during winter in Antarctica. The female lays a single egg and passes it to the male penguin to incubate while she heads towards the sea to feed. The male penguin fasts during the nine weeks while keeping the egg warm.  

When the female comes back in August, it is the male’s turn to feed. Once he has fed himself, he returns and helps rear the chick. Baby Emperor penguins are usually born between the end of July or the middle of August, but they can’t explore the sea alone until January arrives.  

When the sea ice starts to break, the penguin family heads out to the sea.  

Estimated population: Their estimated population today is around 600,000 Emperor penguins. 

2. Adelie penguin 

Adelie penguins are the most widely distributed species in the world. They spend their winter in the seas surrounding the Antarctic while the rest of the year on the coastal islands. 

Their average height measures up to 26 inches and they weigh 11 lbs, making them one of the smallest species of penguins. Adelie penguins reside in tightly packed breeding colonies. These colonies are often noisy and messy, where one can hear and smell Adelie penguins long before stumbling upon them.  

An Adelie penguin standing on a rock

An Adelie penguin standing on a rock

When the penguins migrate to outlying ice areas in the winters, males arrive first and present pebbles to females to attract them.  

Their breeding season is the shortest, and the courtship also remains brief. The Adelie penguin lay eggs in mid-November. Both parents take care of the egg until it hatches. Two to three weeks after the chick is born, the young Adelie penguins join a creche or nursey before heading for open waters. 

Interestingly, the mating pairs will often stay together for 5 to 6 years before going their separate ways.  

Estimated population: There are more than 4.5 million breeding populations of Adelie penguins in Antarctica. 

3. Gentoo penguin 

Gentoo is the most northerly living penguin in Antarctica. The word ‘Gentoo’ refers to a turban and usually highlights the white patch above these penguin’s eyes. There are usually found on many sub-Antarctic islands but also occupy beaches far down as the peninsula. 

Gentoo penguins are known for their speed in the water. Their diving speed reaches up to 22 miles per hour. Gentoos can grow up to 27 inches and weigh around 12 lbs.  

Gentoo penguins have a distinct white patch over their eyes

Gentoo penguins have a distinct white patch over their eyes

These species of penguins live in large breeding colonies and build their nests on beaches and in grass tussocks. They are very aggressive when it comes to defending their turfs. 

Similar to the Adelie penguins, Gentoo male penguins offer stones as a gift to the female. They will also attract mates by trumpeting skywards.  

The egg-laying process can occur as early as June but is delayed in colder areas. The female Gentoo lays two eggs and switches incubation duties with the male. Hatching takes place for 35 days, after which it takes another month for a Gentoo chick to fledge before they venture out in the sea. 

Estimated population: Gentoo penguins have approximately 387,000 breeding pairs, making them the least abundant species. 

4. Chinstrap penguin 

Chinstrap penguins look as if they have a mini helmet strapped on top of their head. They have a band of black feathers that run from the black marking on top of their head, through the underside of their chin. This looks exactly like a chip strap of a helmet. 

Chinstrap penguins prefer slightly warmer water as they inhabit the outlying islands of the Antarctic Peninsula. Deception Island is the best place to spot these penguins where there is a colony of a million. Chinstrap penguins stand at an average of 27 inches in height and weigh around 10 lbs.

A Chinstrap penguin colony

A Chinstrap penguin colony

These penguins are one of the noisest and aggressive out of all. Fights among Chinstrap penguins will often breakout where males kick out other males if they prefer a certain area. 

Their breeding practices are unusual but are also termed dramatic. Male Chinstrap penguins arrive on land first and wait for the females to appear. When their partner does not show up in five days or so, male penguins move on with another female to mate. 

However, if the female partner does show up eventually, fights ensue where they shove their opponent down the hillsides or fight for the male’s affection. 

Estimated population: Chinstrap penguins are the most abundant species with a population of 7.5 million.  

5. Macaroni penguins 

Marconi penguins can be recognized very easily due to their yellow plumage which is seen above their eyes. These bright, spiky, and orange eyebrows are known as crests. The name ‘Marconi’ is derived from the 18th-century term, ‘Marconi Dandies’, which referred to people who dressed flamboyantly. 

Adult Marconi penguins and chinstrap penguins are identical in height and weight. They grow around 28 inches and weigh 12 pounds. 

The eccentric Marconi penguin

The eccentric Marconi penguin

These species of penguins are found close to the Antarctic convergence. They form huge colonies that range from hundreds to thousands and are usually located near hillsides and rocky cliffs. However, these penguins do not live in Antarctica all year round as they inhabit warmer surrounding islands like Heard Island and South Georgia. 

Marconi penguins arrive in October in South Georgia and lay eggs two weeks later. The female usually lays two eggs, both of different sizes from which the smaller egg rarely hatches.  

During the incubation period, the female Marconi penguin is the main hunter. Marconi chicks grow enough within 10 weeks and leave their parents to mingle with the adult penguin population. 

Estimated population: Marconi penguins have a staggering population of 18 million.  

6. Rockhopper penguin 

Rockhopper penguins have decorated yellow eyebrow which is used to attract mates. It is believed that when you see these penguins shake their heads extremely fast, their yellow brow appears like a halo.  

Rockhopper penguins get the name from their distinct style of moving. As they prefer rocky areas, Rockhoppers cannot slide on their bellies to move from one place to another. Hence, they hop from stone to stone in the Northern Antarctic Islands.  

Northern Rockhopper penguins

Northern Rockhopper penguins

These species of penguins are usually divided into three subspecies – northern, southern, and eastern Rockhopper penguins. On an Antarctic voyage, you mostly see northern and southern Rockhopper penguins. 

During their annual breeding period, Rockhopper penguins gather in large and chatty colonies. These include hundreds to thousands of Rockhopper penguins who construct burrows in tall grasses near the shore. They tend to return to the same breeding site, nest, and sometimes to the same mate every year.  

Estimated population: The estimated population of rockhopper penguins is 9 million breeding pairs but this number is declining. This has resulted in the rockhopper penguins being endangered. 

7. King penguins 

After Emperor, King penguins are the second-largest penguin species. They also look similar to the emperor penguins, having the iconic colorful plumage on their neck and head. However, it has been noted that the black of the penguin is not as dark as other penguin species and can be described as a dark shade of grey. 

King penguins stand 31 inches tall and weigh about 35 pounds once they reach their maturity level. They live along the coastlines of the sub-Antarctic islands and spend most of their time at sea. 

A King penguin with its chick

A King penguin with its chick

According to scientists, king penguins love their mid-afternoon naps and sleep more deeply after lunch than during the morning.  

They are known to be highly social birds and gather in large colonies to breed. King penguins have an unusual breeding timeframe that lasts for approximately 14 months.  

Unlike other penguin species, they do not have a nest of their own. Instead, they lay one green-white egg and carry it around on their feet for a period of 50 to 60 days. The egg is swapped by each parent and the free parent goes in search of food.  

When a King penguin chick is born, they are often bigger and more fluffed than the adult king penguin.  

Estimated population: King penguins have a population of 2.23 million pairs.  

These well-known species of penguins in Antarctica have their own behavior and breeding methods. After reading all about them, which out of the seven penguin species fascinated you the most? 


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