Penguins Penguins

Scientific Classification

Common Name
Genus Species
• emperor – Aptenodytes forsteri
• king – Aptenodytes patagonica
• Adélie – Pygoscelis adeliae
• gentoo – Pygoscelis papua
• chinstrap – Pygoscelis antarcticus
• northern rockhopper – Eudyptes moseleyi
• southern rockhopper – Eudyptes chrysocom
• macaroni – Eudyptes chrysolophus
• royal – Eudyptes schlegeli
• Fiordland crested – Eudyptes pachyrhynchus
• erect-crested – Eudyptes sclateri
• Snares Island – Eudyptes robustus
• yellow-eyed – Megadyptes antipodes
• fairy (little blue) – Eudyptula minor
• Magellanic – Spheniscus magellanicus
• Humboldt – Spheniscus humboldti
• African – Spheniscus demersus
• Galapagos – Spheniscus mendiculus

Fast Facts

The upright body posture and mostly black-and-white coloration makes penguins easy to distinguish from other birds. As with other marine animals, penguins have a fusiform (tapered) shape. The forelimbs are modified into flippers, the tail is short and wedge-shaped and the hind limbs are set far back on the body, which is supported on land by webbed feet. Species-specific markings on the head and facial areas make it easy to tell the adults of most penguin species apart.
Male: Male and female penguins of most species are not sexually dimorphic. The exception is the crested penguins in which males are more robust and have larger bills.
The emperor penguin is the largest penguin, standing 112 cm (44 in) tall. The smallest penguin is the fairy penguin, standing just 41 cm (16 in.).
Of the 18 penguin species, emperor penguins weigh the most at 27 to 41 kg (60 to 90 lbs.). In contrast, the fairy penguin is the lightest, weighing roughly 1 kg (2.2 lbs.).
Fishes, squid, and krill (a shrimp-like crustacean)
In most species of penguins, both the male and female parent takes turns incubating the egg. In emperor penguins, the female transfers a newly laid egg to her mate's feet, and then leaves to feed at sea while the male incubates the egg for as long as 66 days. The incubation period lasts anywhere from 4 weeks (erect-crested penguins) to 66 days (emperor penguins).
For most species, breeding season occurs from the Southern hemisphere's spring through summer period. The primary exception is the emperor penguin which breeds during the Southern hemisphere's winter period.
Clutch Size
Emperor and king penguins typically lay a single egg, whereas penguins of other species usually lay two eggs.
Sexual Maturity
Approximately 3 to 8 years
Life Span
For most species, the average lifespan is 15 to 20 years although some individuals live much longer.
All penguins live south of the equator, from the icy waters of Antarctica to the tropical Galápagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador, just south of the equator.
Penguins tend to inhabit islands and remote landmasses that are relatively free from land predators. Some species spend nearly 75% of their life at sea. 
Global: Chinstrap penguins may be the most numerous penguin species, with a population estimated at 6.5 million breeding pairs. The vulnerable yellow-eyed penguin population is estimated at less than 7,000.
IUCN: 12 species are listed
CITES: Humboldt penguin – Appendix I; African penguin – Appendix II
USFWS: The Galapagos penguin (Spheniscus mendiculus) is listed as Endangered
Other: All Antarctic penguins are legally protected by the Antarctic Treaty. Penguins are vulnerable to habitat destruction, overfishing of primary food sources, ecological disasters such as oil spills and human encroachment into nesting areas.

Fun Facts

All penguins live south of the equator, from the icy waters of Antarctica to the tropical Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador, almost astride the equator.

Penguins are specialized marine birds adapted to living at sea. Some species spend as much as 75% of their lives in the sea – only coming ashore for breeding and molting. Penguin wings are paddle-like flippers used for swimming, not flying.

Penguins have denser feathers than most other types of birds having as many as 70 feathers per square inch. These feathers are spaced very closely and tufted with down on the shafts to help keep the penguins warm.

Adult penguins are countershaded (dark dorsal, light ventral) which helps to conceal swimming penguins from predators such as killer whales, sharks or leopard seals. When viewed from above, the dark dorsal side blends in with the darker ocean depths. When viewed from beneath, the light ventral side helps in with the lighter surface of the sea.

Antarctic species of penguins can move quickly on ice by tobogganing on their bellies using their flippers and feet to help propel them along.

Chinstrap penguins may be the most numerous penguin, with a population estimated at 12–13 million.

The most vulnerable penguin is the yellow-eyed penguin, which inhabits the coasts and offshore islands of southeast New Zealand. The yellow-eyed penguin population is estimated at less than 7,000.

For more in-depth information, explore the Penguin InfoBook.


Ecology and Conservation

The Antarctic Treaty legally protects all Antarctic penguins. Penguins are vulnerable to habitat destruction, overfishing of primary food sources, ecological disasters such as oil spills, and human encroachment into nesting areas. 

Collectively, SeaWorld parks have maintained nine species of penguins, all of which have successfully reproduced. SeaWorld, San Diego has hatched over 500 penguins. This is the only place outside of Antarctica that emperor penguins have successfully reproduced.  In addition, the Humboldt penguins at SeaWorld are part of the species survival program (SSP) of the Zoo and Aquarium Association in an attempt to ensure the survival of this endangered species.


Coates, J. Penguins: Flightless Birds of the Southern Hemisphere. San Diego. SeaWorld, Inc. 2001.

Oki, D. Penguins. San Diego. SeaWorld, Inc. 1996.

Peterson, R.T. Penguins. Boston. Houghton Mifflin Co. 1979.