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The Eight Great Penguin Species of Antarctica

by Oceanwide Expeditions Blog

There are 17 penguin species found around the globe, but the eight most recognizable reside only on the Antarctic Continent, its nearby islands, and the sub-Antarctic archipelagos of South Georgia and the Falklands.
The Eight Great Penguin Species of Antarctica

Penguin species from the Antarctic to the Falklands

There are 17 penguin species found around the globe, but the eight most recognizable reside only on the Antarctic Continent, its nearby islands, and the sub-Antarctic archipelagos of South Georgia and the Falklands.

Of these eight penguin species, two live exclusively on the Antarctic Continent (emperor penguins and Adélie penguins), three live on the most northerly part of the Antarctic Peninsula and sub-Antarctic islands (chinstraps, macaronis, and gentoos), and three penguin species live only in the sub-Antarctic (rockhoppers, Megallanics, and kings).

It is these penguins you stand the chance to see on an Antarctica cruise, described below in all their flightless yet fascinating detail.

Image by Martin van Lokven

1. Emperor penguin (Antarctica only)

Of all the penguins on the planet, emperor penguins are probably the most emblematic of the whole species. It helps that they're the largest: Emperor penguins can grow up to 122 cm tall (48 inches) and weigh 22 to 45 kg (49 to 99 pounds). They live on crustaceans, squid, and fish, and are usually found in the Ross Sea and Weddell regions, especially Snow Hill Island. Emperor penguins are the only bird species in the entire Antarctic that breeds during the winter. Baby emperor penguin chicks are born between the end of July and the middle of August, but they're unable to explore the sea alone until January. 

Image by Douglas Newson

2. Adélie penguin (Antarctica only)

The most widely distributed penguin species, Adélie penguins weight from 3.6 to 6.0 kg (7.9 to 13.2 pounds) and grow between 46 to 71 cm (18 to 28 inches) tall. There are estimated to be 2.5 million pairs of Adélie penguins in the Antarctic region, and their preferred food is krill and fish. Adélie penguin chicks are usually born in early to mid-December, and are able to be left alone for short periods of time by their third week of life.

Image by Jan Veen 

3. Gentoo penguin (Antarctica and sub-Antarctic)

There are thought to be about 300,000 breeding pairs of gentoo penguins in the Antarctic region, which puts them second only to the emperor penguin in terms of smallest penguin population. As adults, gentoo penguins can reach 50 - 90 cm (19.7 - 35.4 inches) tall and weigh 4.5 - 8.5 kg (9.9 - 18.7 pounds). Gentoos rely on a diet of squid, fish, and crustaceans. Though they hatch in October, it takes three months before gentoo penguin chicks are able to strike out on their own.

Image by Erwin Vermeulen

4. Chinstrap penguin (Antarctica and sub-Antarctic)

With roughly seven million pairs of chinstrap penguins in the world, it's not surprising when one of these penguins is spotted from an expedition ship. Adult chinstrap penguins have an average height of 68 to 76 cm (27 to 30 inches) and weigh between 3.2 to 5.3 kg (7.1 to 11.7 pounds), living on fish and krill. Chinstrap penguins typically have two chicks per mating season, born between late February and early March.

5. Macaroni penguin (Antarctica and sub-Antarctic)

These island-dwelling penguins have an estimated population of 12 million pairs. Adult macaroni penguins and chinstrap penguins are virtually identical in terms of height and weight, growing to around 70 cm (28 inches) and 5.5 kg (12 pounds), with a main diet of fish, krill, and squid. Macaroni penguin chicks grow enough within 10 weeks to leave their parents behind and integrate into the adult penguin population.

6. Rockhopper penguin (Antarctica and sub-Antarctic)

Because there's contention among scientists as to what distinguishes a rockhopper penguin, there are three different types (northern, southern, and eastern) divided by reproductive behavior and location of breeding. Rockhopper penguins have an average height of 50 cm (19.7 inches) and weigh about 2.5 kg (5.5 pounds). We mostly see northern and southern rockhopper penguins, whose diet consists mostly of krill and small crustaceans. 

Image by Wim van Passel

7. Magellanic penguin (Antarctica and sub-Antarctic)

These spiky-haired penguins are named after the famous explorer Ferdinand Magellan, stand between 60 to 75 cm (23.6 to 29.5) tall, and weigh 2.5 to 6.5 kg (5.5 to 14.3 pounds) Magellanic penguins tend to be shy around humans, running for cover in their burrows if people are near. If it gets too hot, Magellanic penguins will shed beak feathers, pant, and stretch their flippers to catch a breeze and release heat. The largest example of the genus Spheniscus, Magellanic penguins are closely related to Galápagos penguins, Humboldt penguins, and African penguins.

Image by Erwin Vermeulen

8. King penguin (sub-Antarctic only)

King penguins are the second-largest Antarctic penguin species. Once they reach full maturity, they weigh about 16 kg (35 pounds) and stand 94 cm (37 inches) tall. The estimated two million breeding pairs of king penguins in the world dine on squid and fish, and live along the coastline of the sub-Antarctic islands. King penguins have an unusual breeding timeframe that lasts approximately 14 months from courtship to the fledging of the chick.

Title image by Ilja Reijnen

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