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Adelie Penguin
Paulet Island, Antarctica
January 19, 2010


The Adélie Penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae) is a type of penguin common along the entire Antarctic coast and nearby islands. They are among most southerly distributed of all seabirds, along with Emperor Penguin, South Polar Skua, Wilson's Storm Petrel, Snow Petrel, and Antarctic Petrel. In 1830, French explorer Jules Dumont d'Urville named them for his wife, Adélie.


The Adelie Penguin is one of three species in the genus Pygoscelis. Mitochondrial and nuclear DNA evidence suggests the genus split from other penguins around 38 million years ago, about 2 million years after the ancestors of the genus Aptenodytes. In turn, the Adelie Penguins split off from the other members of the genus around 19 million years ago.


There are 38 colonies of Adelie penguins, and there are over 5 million Adelies in the Ross Sea Region.

Ross Island supports a colony of approximately half a million Adélie penguins.


These penguins are mid-sized, being 46 to 75 cm (18 to 30 in) in length and 3.9 to 5.8 kg (8.6 to 12.8 lbs) in weight. Distinctive marks are the white ring surrounding the eye and the feathers at the base of the bill. These long feathers hide most of the red bill. The tail is a little longer than other penguins' tails.

Behaviour Adélie Penguins at Cape Adare

Like all penguins, the Adelie Penguin is highly social, foraging and nesting in groups.


Although winter data is lacking, the Adélie penguin is known to feed mainly on Antarctic krill, crystal krill (ice krill), Antarctic silverfish, and Glacial Squid (diet varies depending on geographic location) during the chick-rearing season. The stable isotope record of fossil eggshell accumulated in colonies over the last 38,000 years reveals a sudden change from a fish-based diet to krill that started two hundred years ago. This is most likely due to the decline of the Antarctic Fur Seal since the late 1700s and Baleen whales in the twentieth century. The reduction of competition from these predators has resulted in a surplus of krill, which the penguins now exploit as an easier source of food.

Reproduction Mating Adélie Penguins
in Antarctica

Adélie Penguins arrive at their breeding grounds in January. Their nests consist of stones piled together. In December, the warmest month in Antarctica (about -2°C), the parents take turns incubating the egg; one goes to feed and the other stays to warm the egg. The parent who is incubating does not eat. In March, the adults and their young return to the sea. The Adélie penguin lives on sea ice but needs the ice-free land to breed. With a reduction in sea ice and a scarcity of food, populations of the Adélie penguin have dropped by 65% over the past 25 years.

In popular culture
  • The 1938 children's book Mr. Popper's Penguins revolves around the story of twelve Adélie penguins.
  • The 1971 film Mr. Forbush and The Penguins follows John Hurt's character as he spends 6 months observing (and becoming attached to) a colony of Adelie penguins.
  • The 1988 children's film The Adventures of Scamper the Penguin featured Adélie Penguins.
  • The 1995 film The Pebble and the Penguin was based on Adélie courtship behavior where the birds build nests of pebbles to attract mates.
  • The Madagascar Penguins in the 2005 film Madagascar are presumed to be Adelie Penguins.
  • Mumble, the main character in the 2006 film Happy Feet, is an Emperor Penguin who befriends a group of Mexican-accented Adélie penguins.
  • In the webcomic Wally and Osborne, Osborne is an Adelie penguin.
  • The Daily Telegraph, a major United Kingdom newspaper, ran an April Fool's Day 2008 joke promoting a BBC special showing flying Adélie penguins.

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