Antarctica Penguins Facts

There are just 17 species of penguin worldwide, 4 of these live and nest on and around the Antarctic continent and a further 3 live and nest on Antarctic and sub-Antarctic islands, giving 7 species that can be considered "Antarctic Penguins".

All 17 penguin species live exclusively in the Southern Hemisphere apart from the Galapagos penguin which just about qualifies as living in the Northern Hemisphere as it spans a narrow band at the equator in the Galapagos Islands.

The true Antarctic species, those that breed on or near continental Antarctica


Adélie penguin
Pygoscelis adeliae

Adelie penguin

Height: 70cm - 27.5inches

Weight: 5kg - 11lb

Breeding Season:

November - February

Distribution:

Antarctic continent and sub-Antarctic islands.
The second most southerly breeding penguin species

Estimated population:

2.5 million breeding pairs

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Chinstrap penguin
Pygoscelis antarctica

Chinstrap penguin

Height: 68cm - 27 inches

Weight: 4.5kg - 10lb

Breeding Season:

December - March

Distribution:

Sub Antarctic and Antarctic islands, Antarctic Peninsula.

Estimated population:

5 million breeding pairs




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Emperor penguin
Aptenodytes forsteri

Emperor penguin

Height: 1.15m - 3.8ft

Weight: 30kg - 66lb

Breeding Season:

April - December

Distribution:
Continental Antarctica on the sea-ice, the most southerly of all species of penguins.

Estimated population:

238, 000 breeding pairs,
595, 000 individuals

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Gentoo penguin
Pygoscelis papua

Gentoo penguin

Height: 71cm - 28 inches

Weight: 5.5 kg - 12lb

Breeding Season:

December - March

Distribution:
Falkland islands and south to the sub-Antarctic islands, the most northerly of the 4 Antarctic species.

Estimated population:

320,000 breeding pairs

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Sub-Antarctic species, those whose furthest south is the sub-Antarctic islands

King penguin
Aptenodytes patagonica

King penguin

Height: 95cm - 3.1 ft

Weight: 15kg - 33lb

Breeding Season:

Starts in November or January, complex breeding system, early or late breeders - raise 2 chicks every 3 years.

Distribution:
sub-Antarctic islands 46° to 55° South. Biggest colony is on South Georgia.

Estimated population:

2 to 3.2 million breeding pairs

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Macaroni penguin
Eudyptes chrysolophus

Macaroni penguin

Height: 68cm - 27 inches

Weight: 4.5kg - 10lb

Breeding Season:

December - March

Distribution:

Sub-Antarctic islands especially Heard island and South Georgia

Estimated population:

9 million breeding pairs.
Many populations are in decline.

Rockhopper penguin
Eudyptes crestatus

Rockhopper penguin

Height: 55cm - 21.6 inches

Weight: 2.5kg - 5.5lb

Breeding Season:

December - March

Distribution:

Falkland islands and sub-Antarctic islands north of the Antarctic convergence.

Estimated population:

1.8 million breeding pairs
Many populations are in decline by 40% and up to 94% for certain colonies.

Penguin adaptations to living in Antarctica

Nest building - All but king and emperor penguins build a nest, though they are usually only a simple pile of stones that are continually stolen and swapped between the members of a colony when the owners aren't looking. The nests are slightly higher than the surrounding land so that if the temperature rises and the snow melts, the nest is not flooded. Emperor and King penguins keep the egg and then the young chick on their feet covered by a brood pouch until they are large enough to regulate their own temperature.

Breeding Colonies - Penguin colonies are very loud, raucous, busy and smelly affairs. The call of all penguins is as musical and gentle as a braying jackass and the whole colony is usually awash with penguin guano (posh word for bird poop). When I was in Antarctica one thing I did was help with long-term surveys which entailed walking through the colony (terribly frowned upon these days). Each nest is just over two pecking distances apart so the penguins can't reach each other. Of course walking through the middle meant that you were in range of everyone. I used to worry a lot about slipping over in a penguin colony, covered from head to toe in guano and pecked mercilessly.

Reproduction -  Colonies may be of just a handful of breeding pairs or up to half a million birds and more. Many species lay two eggs, though it is rare that two chicks are raised, if food is short it will be fed to the biggest and strongest only. Male and female parents share egg and chick duty. Chicks are fed regurgitated fish and krill (yum!). The chicks leave the nest (or parents feet) when they are large enough to keep their own temperature constant, they form crèches to give each other mutual support and protection from marauding skuas and also to protect against the cold and wind.

Predators - Penguins main predators are leopard seals (the main predators of adult birds) and Skuas (the main predators of eggs and unguarded chicks).

Picture credits: Emperor penguin - Warner Brothers / King penguin - Mike Usher / Rockhopper penguin - Liam Quinn from Canada, Creative Commons 2.0 Share and share alike license