10 Phenomenal Penguin Species

marvelous penguins species, four types on edge of water illustration

Treehugger / Caitlin Rogers

Penguins are among the most unusual avian species. Highly adapted for life in the water, these flightless birds live almost exclusively in extreme cold, in climates where other birds are nowhere to be found. These birds are found across the Southern Hemisphere — from the Galapagos Islands to Antarctica. Unfortunately, threats of overfishing and climate change are reducing most penguin populations, and 11 of the 18 species of penguins are now globally threatened or endangered.

Here, we take a look at 10 penguin species to learn more about the diversity among these flightless fowl, and what we can do to ensure their survival.

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Emperor Penguin

Three emperor penguins walk across the snow

Lin Padgham / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

Reaching heights of four feet, the emperor penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri) is the tallest of all penguin species, and the photogenic bird that's often featured in nature documentaries. It lives in Antarctica, where it dives for fish, krill, and crustaceans, and it can swim to depths of 1,755 feet and stay submerged for up to 18 minutes. The emperor penguin is best known for its annual journey to mate and feed its offspring.

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Adélie Penguin

A band of penguins with bright white and black eyes stands on a beach

wcpmedia / Shutterstock

The Adélie penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae) lives on the Antarctic coast and can swim at speeds of up to 45 miles per hour. The birds are easily recognizable by the distinctive white rings around their eyes and the fact that they’re mostly black with a white belly.

These birds sometime engage in homosexuality and even necrophilia; a 1911 explorer wrote a paper about the behavior that went unpublished due to what, at the time, was considered scandalous content.

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Humboldt Penguin

Two penguins stand on a rock above a pool of water

trabantos / Shutterstock

Humboldt penguins (Spheniscus humboldti) are native to Chile and Peru and nest on islands and rocky coasts, often burrowing holes in guano. The birds' numbers are declining due to overfishing, climate change, and ocean acidification, and the animal is considered a vulnerable species. In 2010, Humboldt penguins were granted protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

In 2009, two male Humboldt penguins at a German zoo adopted an abandoned egg. After it hatched, the penguins raised the chick as their own.

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Yellow-Eyed Penguin

A close-up shot of penguin with a red beak and yellow eyes

Michael Smith ITWP / Shutterstock

Native to New Zealand, the yellow-eyed penguin (Megadyptes antipodes) may be the most ancient of all living penguins, and they live long lives, with some individuals reaching 20 years of age. Habitat destruction, introduced predators, and disease have caused the penguins' numbers to drop to an estimated population of 4,000. In 2004, a disease linked to a genus of bacteria that causes diphtheria in humans wiped out 60 percent of the yellow-eyed penguin chicks on the Otago Peninsula. And a 2017 study showed that breeding penguins declined by 76% between 1996 and 2015, concluding that the species is endangered and may go locally extinct by 2043.

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Chinstrap Penguin

A close-up shot of a penguin with a black stripe below its eye

seafarer / Shutterstock

Chinstrap penguins (Pygoscelis antarcticus) are easily recognizable by the black bands under their heads that give them the appearance of wearing helmets. They’re found in Antarctica, the Sandwich Islands, and other southern island chains, where they live on barren islands and congregate on icebergs during winter. Experts consider these birds to be the most aggressive species of penguin — they even steal rocks from each other to improve their own nests.

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African Penguin

Four black and white penguins walk across a rocky surface

Bernhard Richter / Shutterstock

African penguins (Spheniscus demersus) are native to southern Africa and are the only penguins that breed on the continent. In fact, their presence is how the Penguin Islands got their name. African penguins are also called "jackass penguins" because of the donkeylike sounds they make. The pink glands above their eyes help regulate heat. The species is endangered, with fewer than 26,000 breeding pairs remaining.

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King Penguin

A band of king penguins on a grassy field

Cherryson / Shutterstock

King penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus) are the second largest species of penguin and can grow to three feet tall. The animals live in Antarctica, which has an estimated population of 2.23 million pairs, and the penguins are well adapted to the extreme living conditions. The birds boast 70 feathers per square inch and have four layers of feathering. Like most penguins, king penguins are able to drink salt water because their supraorbital glands filter out excess salt.

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Fairy Penguin

A small penguin walks across a rock

Libor Fousek / Shutterstock

The smallest species of penguin, the fairy penguin (Eudyptula minor) grows to an average height of 13 inches and can be found on the coasts of southern Australia and New Zealand. With a wild population of about 350,000 to 600,000, the species isn't endangered; however, people still go to great lengths to protect the birds from predation. In some parts of Australia, Maremma sheepdogs have been trained to guard penguin colonies, and in Sydney, snipers have been deployed to protect penguins from fox and dog attacks.

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Macaroni Penguin

A penguin with a yellow crest surveys its surroundings

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The macaroni penguin (Eudyptes chrysolophus) is one of six species of crested penguin, those penguins with yellow crests and red bills and eyes. The birds are found from the Subantarctic to the Antarctic Peninsula, and with 18 million individuals, the animals are the most numerous penguin species in the world. However, widespread declines in population have been reported since the 1970s, which has resulted in their conservation status being reclassified as vulnerable.

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Galapagos Penguin

A furry gray and white penguin stands on a rock

Ben Queenborough / Shutterstock

The Galapagos penguin (Spheniscus mendiculus) is the only penguin species found north of the equator, and only survives the tropical climate of the Galapagos Islands due to the cool ocean temperatures delivered by the Humboldt Current. The third-smallest species of penguin, it is particularly vulnerable to predation, and with an estimated population of around 1,500 birds, the species is endangered.

View Article Sources
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  2. "Spheniscus Humboldti." 2020, doi:10.2305/iucn.uk.2020-3.rlts.t22697817a182714418.en

  3. "Yellow-Eyed Penguin/Hoiho." New Zealand Department Of Conservation.

  4. Mattern, Thomas et al. "Quantifying Climate Change Impacts Emphasises The Importance Of Managing Regional Threats In The Endangered Yellow-Eyed Penguin." Peerj, vol. 5, 2017, p. e3272., doi:10.7717/peerj.3272

  5. Dalton, Desiré Lee et al. "Diversity In The Toll-Like Receptor Genes Of The African Penguin (Spheniscus Demersus)." PLOS ONE, vol. 11, no. 10, 2016, p. e0163331., doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0163331