Gentoo Penguin

The exact origin of their name now lost to time, these highly fastidious divers comprise the only penguin population currently increasing both in size and domain

Gentoo Penguin

Name: Gentoo penguin (Pygoscelis papua)

Height: 50 - 90 cm (19.7 - 35.4 inches)

Weight: 4.5 - 8.5 kg (9.9 - 18.7 pounds)

Location: Antarctica

Conservation status: Near threatened

Diet: Crustaceans (krill), fish, squid

Appearance: Black back and head, white belly, and a white stripe running eye-to-eye across the top of the head

How do gentoo penguins feed?

Gentoo penguins have been known to make as many as 450 dives per day to forage for food. They can dive as deep as 200 metres (650 feet) and stay underwater up to 7 minutes. Although they prefer to stay close to shore, gentoos have been spotted as far as 26 km (16 miles) out to sea.

Two Gentoo penguins walking in the sea

Are gentoo penguins social?

Gentoo penguins tend to stay within their colonies even beyond the mating season, though colonies in more southern regions may disperse more.

How fast can gentoo penguins swim?

Gentoo penguins are the fastest-swimming penguins in the world, reaching speeds of up to 36 kph (22.4 mph).

A group of Gentoo penguins and a Fur seal in the background

What are gentoo penguin mating rituals like?

Gentoo penguins choose shallow coastal areas for their breeding grounds, building nests among tufts of grass or rocky ground. Their colonies spread across many of the sub-Antarctic islands as well as the Antarctic Peninsula. 

Gentoos use stones to form a circle for their nests, and fights over those stones can become quite nasty. Stones are even a gift that male gentoo penguins sometimes give females when trying to woo them. 

There is a large variety in egg-laying times depending on where a particular gentoo penguin is found. In warmer areas, this can occur as early as June, but in colder areas the laying period is delayed until December. 

Gentoo penguins are monogamous and have up to three breeding seasons, but generally they find new partners after that. Male gentoos attract females with gifts of stones and also by “trumpeting” skyward. If a female gentoo penguin chooses a male, both sexes point their bills at the nest the female has built. 

After breeding, female gentoos lay two eggs that weigh about 130g each (4.6 ounces). Gentoo parents then switch incubation duties on a daily basis. The incubation period lasts about 35 days, and then the gentoo penguin chicks stay in the nest another 30 days before forming crèches.

Gentoo chicks form these crèches, or nurseries, with other chicks for protection and warmth while they learn to fend for themselves. It takes about another month for the gentoo penguin chicks to grow their feathers, at which point they’re able to venture out to the sea.

Four Gentoo penguins in Antarctica

How long do gentoo penguins live?

Gentoo penguins live about 15 to 20 years in the wild.

How many gentoo penguins are there today?

Estimates place the gentoo penguin population at around 300,000 breeding pairs.

Do gentoo penguins have any natural predators?

Other seabirds like skuas steal eggs and try to make off with gentoo chicks. In the water, all gentoo penguins are on the watch for seals, orcas, and sea lions.

A skua stealing a Gentoo penguin chick

Eight jamming gentoo facts

  • Nobody is exactly sure why the word “gentoo” was applied to this particular penguin. The only other association with the word came from the 1630s, when it was an Anglo-Indian term used to distinguish Indian Hindus from Indian Muslims. This use of the word may have come from the Portuguese word gentio, which refers to gentiles.
  • The genus Pygoscelis means “rump-legged” and contains three brush-tailed penguins identified by their long tails, which sweep back and forth as they waddle.
  • Gentoo penguins are the third largest penguin species.
  • Unlike certain other penguin species, gentoos do not have a yearly migration cycle.
  • The weight and height of gentoos are found to increase the farther they live from the Antarctic Peninsula.
  • Gentoo penguins only breed in areas free of snow and ice.
  • Cleaniness is key. If the previous year’s nesting area is covered with waste or too trampled, gentoo penguins will locate the next year’s area somewhere else along the coastline.
  • Gentoo penguins are the only penguin species in the Antarctic Peninsula region that are expanding both in numbers and in distribution. 

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