Here’s a great site showing the various Penguin species around the globe and where they can be found. In this article I am only concentrating on the species found around the Falklands, South Georgia, and the Eastern Antarctica Peninsula. Information for this article was collected from the Bradt guide to Wildlife in Antarctica and the Cool Antarctica website, and National Geographic.
Height: 21.5 inches | Weight: 5.5 lbs
Rockhoppers have a large range and unusual temperature tolerance for a penguin. They range from islands near New Zealand to islands near South Africa and around South America. Most typically breed above the Antarctic converge. They earned the name “rock hopper” because they breed on rocky surfaces and need to jump from rock to rock to get wherever they’re going. Like a lot of penguin species, Rockhoppers lay two eggs, but usually abandon the smaller of the two. Both male and female parents share incubation and food collection for their chick. Unfortunately, the Rockhopper species is in decline for unknown reasons. One theory for the decline cites a combination of oil pollution and heavy fishing pressure north of the convergence.
Height: 27.5 inches | Weight: 9lbs
Named after a hairstyle in the 18th Century that was also sported by Dagwood in the Blondie cartoon, the Macaroni Penguin is larger than the Rockhopper. They actually inhabit the Falklands in smaller numbers than on South Georgia. Both sexes share incubation of approximately 35 days timing things so the female returns with a big catch of food just when the chick is hatching. Like the Rockhopper, the Macaroni typically lays two eggs and discards the smaller one, but sometimes the smaller one is kept and two chicks are hatched. Survival rates of the second, smaller, chick are extremely low because the parents are geared to only provide enough food for one. The Macaroni is the least adapted of polar penguins.
Height: 30-32 inches | Weight: 12-13lbs
Gentoos can be found all over the Antartic converge and become smaller the further south they live. Of all the penguin species, the Gentoo have the most prominent tail that is often cocked-up while swimming. Their diet consists of fish and crustaceans, but the ratio of fish to crustacean intake shifts depending on where they live. In warmer waters they eat about 85% fish, but in the colder water they eat about 85% crustaceans. The Gentoo is less colonial than most penguins, nesting in smaller numbers, and not always returning to the same nesting grounds. They typically nest around other penguin species. Despite not having a bond with a nesting ground, they typically do share a bond with their breeding partner that will last through multiple seasons. Gentoos lay two eggs, but try to raise both – they’re unique in this regard. If the second egg is lost they will try to replace it eventhough only one usually survives. Gentoos are highly protective of their nests against other Gentoos who will steal parts of their neighbors’ nests for their own.
It is not really known how the Gentoos got their name, but one theory states that early British explorers named them after a Hindu sect that wore white cotton caps.
Height: 27-30 inches | Weight: 9lbs
Chinstraps mainly concentrate on the coasts of the South Orkneys, South Shetlands, and South Sandwich Islands. They are mini-mountaineers choosing to nest above Gentoos and Adelie penguins sometimes as high as 300ft above sea level. Male Chinstraps are tenacious enough to bully larger penguins off their nests to take it over for themselves. They are also the last species of penguins to return to the breeding grounds, so they may have had to evolve into bullies to make sure the breed could survive. Because they nest on such high-ground, Chinstraps have been seen using all fours to ascend and descend from their nesting grounds and even tobogganing down a cliff face. They have a strong bond, not only with a nesting site, but also with their mates. Nesting sites are typically noisy and full of thieves as they all steal pieces of each others’ nests from one another. The parents take turns being thieves!
Chinstraps are increasing in numbers probably due to the abundance of krill available with warming waters.
Height: 38 inches | Weight: 26lbs
The King is the most abundant penguin on South Georgia. Colonies can be in the hundreds of thousands! Kings have an unusually long breeding cycle lasting more than a year. Courting involves “raucous antiphonal calling and displays of the brilliant orange patches in head-flagging” [Bradt]. Many people believe the King penguin to be the most beautiful penguin of all the species because of the orange pattern against white and blue/black feathering. King chicks were once thought to be a totally different breed of penguin because they have a thick brown down coat and look nothing like their parents. They also wear this coat for many months, so it is conceivable an early visitor could easily mistake the young as a different breed.
Kings were extensively exploited for their oil in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but are recovering in huge numbers today.
Height: 30 inches | Weight: 11lbs
This is the regal penguin because early explorers thought they were dressed in tuxedos…the “penguin suit”. The Adelie breeds further south than any other penguin species, but does not go through the breeding hardships of the Emperor penguin. They cluster in huge colonies mainly on the shoreline of rocky beaches on Antarctica. They have the shortest time-frame to breed because the antarctic summer is so short (only a few weeks). Males are the first to return to the nesting grounds and will travel up to 60 miles over unmelted fast-ice to get there. Due to the breeding rush, Adelie males will mate with any available female if their past breeding partner is not present. Stealth and thievery are the means to building nests as Adelies continuously steal each others’ nests. Eggs are laid in mid-November and hatch in late December. By mid-February the young are ready to go to sea. Only about 62% of the Adelie young survive [Bradt]. Adelies are the most abundant of the antarctic penguins, and are mostly concentrated around the Ross Sea. They are vulnerable to human tampering and strong weather conditions. It is believed that global warming is the reason for the current decline in the Adelie’s population.
Height: 42 inches | Weight: 84lbs
Probably the most famous of the penguin breeds because of documentaries (March of the Penguins). The Emperor has one of the most rigorous breeding habits of all the animals found on earth. It nests on sea-ice and endures the coldest conditions Antarctica can throw at them. It is believed that most Emperor penguins never touch land in their lifetime. Males endure the Antarctic winter, for months, while the females gather food to relieve the males after the chick has hatched. During the coldest times, males huddle together to keep warm. When the chick hatches, the males have fasted an average of 115 days and have stored a single meal of fat and protein for the newborn. Survivability of the chicks is heavily dictated by how soon the sea-ice melts. If it is a long winter, it takes the parents a much longer time to come and go from the sea and starvation becomes a major problem. When the chicks are old enough to run around, they can also be caught in white-outs and freeze to death. The only predator that can actually reach the Emperor’s breeding grounds is the South Polar Skua that doesn’t make penguin its main food, and is probably the reason why Emperors have evolved to incorporate such an enduring breeding practice.