What is an Adelie Penguin?

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  • Written By: Niki Foster
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 18 October 2019
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The Adelie Penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae)is a species of bird inhabiting the Antarctic coast and nearby islands, particularly Ross Island. It has one of the southernmost habitats of all seabirds. The Adelie Penguin was named in 1830 by French explorer Jules Dumont d'Urville, after his wife.

The Adelie Penguin is one of three living species of the Pygoscelis genus, the others being the Chinstrap Penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae) and the Gentoo Penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae). All three species live in the Antarctic region, and are collectively known as the Brush-Tailed Penguins. Adelie Penguins are social animals, living and foraging for food in groups. They can be very aggressive to other penguins encroaching on their territory, or stealing stones out of their nests.

Adelie Penguins are among the smaller species of penguins, standing 18 to 30 inches (46 to 75 cm) tall, and weighing 8.6 to 12.8 pounds (3.9 to 5.8 kg). Their tails are slightly longer than those of other penguin species. The Adelie Penguin has a stereotypical penguin appearance, with black feathers on the head and back and white feathers on the front. The species also features white rings around the eyes and a red beak that is mostly covered with black feathers.


None of the Brush-Tailed Penguin species are currently threatened or endangered, and there are over five million Adelie Penguins living in 38 colonies. However, the population of the Adelie Penguin has dropped 65% over the past 25 years due to a diminishing habitat and food source. Adelie Penguins are preyed upon by the skua, a large, flying seabird.

Adelie Penguins breed just before December, the warmest month of the year in Antarctica. They arrive at their ice-free breeding grounds in October or November, and build nests made of stones. The parents take turns incubating the egg; while one keeps the egg warm, the other leaves to feed. The diet of the Adelie Penguin during the chick-rearing season consists mainly of krill, silverfish, and squid, depending upon location. In March, the penguins return to the sea with their young, where they live on sea-ice for the remainder of the year.


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