Penguins have long been a fascination of popular culture with multiple movies and books based on these animals, but did you know that there are actually many different species of penguins?
What constitutes a different species?
There are many species of penguins, but how do scientists distinguish between species? Taxonomy is the science of classifying organisms into different categories. In taxonomy, a species is the fundamental unit of categorization. There are different definitions of what a species is, however the most common definition describes a species as related organisms that can reproduce and produce another generation of fertile offspring. Species are also generally defined by a shared ancestral and evolutionary history. If two species cannot reproduce, they are reproductively isolated from one another. In some cases, this can occur from speciation or the evolution of new species.
How many different penguin species are there?
Today, It is generally agreed that there are 18 different species of penguins on our planet, with many sub-species, so this number is not set in stone. Estimates of the number of species can range from 16 to 22.
What are the different types of species?
The 18 different types of penguins can be grouped based on where they live. The six species that live in and around Australia and New Zealand are the yellow-eyed penguin, snares penguin, royal penguin, erect-crested penguin, little blue (fairy) penguin, and fiordland penguin. There is one species of penguin that lives in Africa called the African penguin. The southern ocean island penguins include macaroni penguin, southern rockhopper penguin, and northern rockhopper penguin. In Antarctica, there are five different species: emperor penguin, king penguin, Adélie penguin, gentoo penguin, and chinstrap penguin. Lastly, three species that live in the Americas are the magellanic penguin, Humboldt penguin, and Galapagos penguin.
Australian and New Zealand Penguins
Yellow-eyed penguins live among New Zealand’s south island. This species, known for its yellow eyes and loud trumpeting sounds, is endangered with only around 3,400 birds left in the wild. There are currently programs in place to help protect the yellow-eyed penguin from invasive species and predators.
Snares penguins also live on New Zealand’s southern islands. These penguins are named after the Snares islands in New Zealand which is their habitat where they nest in coastal forests.
Royal penguins live on an island called Macquarie. These penguins resemble macaroni penguins and are sometimes considered to be a sub-species of macaroni penguins.
These penguins live on Bounty and Antipodes islands in New Zealand. Erect-crested Penguins are also endangered with only around 150,000 left. The reason likely lies in changing ocean temperatures or competition from fisheries--these penguins are long-distance swimmers and spend a lot of time in the water--however, scientists still have to do more research to make any definite conclusions.
Little Blue (Fairy) Penguin
These penguins are the smallest penguins in the world with an average height of 33 centimeters. Their name originated from their short stature and the fact that they are the only species with blue eyes. There are numerous colonies of these penguins with some even popping up in urban areas in New Zealand such as Wellington, the capital city.
These penguins live in the rainforests of the south island of New Zealand. Fiordland Penguins are not endangered but they are vulnerable with only a couple of thousand left.
There is only one species of penguin in Africa, the African penguin, also known as the African black-footed penguins or Jackass penguins. This species lives in South Africa and Namibia. These penguins are also endangered due to their eggs being collected and overfishing of their prey.
Southern Ocean Island Penguins
These penguins were named in the 18th century after macaroni because of their yellow crests on their head. At this time, the word macaroni was used for a man with a flamboyant and ornamented style. Macaroni penguins are the most numerous species of penguins with millions of them spread out in hundreds of colonies across the southern hemisphere. Although this species is numerous, it is classified as vulnerable because of threats from diseases, invasive species, and human development. However, many protection programs are underway in order to curb these threats.
Southern Rockhopper Penguin and Northern Rockhopper Penguin
These two types of penguins were determined to be separate species in 2008 by BirdLife. The Southern rockhopper penguins live on the Falkland Islands, while the Northern species live on the uninhabited islands of the South Atlantic, Tristan da Cunha and Gough. Northern rockhopper penguins are endangered. Since most of this species lives on only two islands worldwide, an event such as a storm or cyclone could have a disastrous effect on the populations of these penguins.
Emperor penguins might be the most famous type of penguin starring in movies like Happy Feet and the March of the Penguins. These penguins are also very unique. They are the largest and tallest penguins and the only species of penguin to nest on the cold Antarctic ice.
King penguins are similar in appearance to emperor penguins except they are a bit smaller, taking the win for the second-largest penguin species living on earth today. These penguins mostly eat fish and can dive up to around 1,000 feet.
These small but voracious, predator penguins are the only other species besides emperor penguins, that live on the mainland of Antarctica. Adélie Penguins have a life span of 10 to 20 years. They also make up the most southern colony of penguins in the world.
There have long been multiple subspecies of Gentoo Penguin acknowledged, but recent studies have shown that these subspecies might actually be distinct enough to be separate species in themselves. These penguins are the fastest swimmers around, reaching speeds of 22 miles per hour.
The chinstrap penguin has its claim to fame by being the star of the well-known children’s book And Tango Makes Three. These penguins, named for the white stripe under their beak that makes it look like they are wearing an army helmet, are the most commonly seen Antarctic penguin found throughout the Antarctic peninsula and along the sub-antarctic islands as well. .
Magellanic Penguins were named after Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese voyager who in 1519 completed the first circumnavigation of the earth. These penguins are active predators who hunt jellyfish.
These penguins are also named after an explorer: Alexander von Humboldt. Humboldt penguins live in the Pingüino de Humboldt National Reserve in the North of Chile as well as different places on the coast of Peru.
Galapagos penguins are the northernmost penguin and the only species in the northern hemisphere. The Galapagos Islands, the homeland of this species, straddle the equator. This species is endangered, most likely due to climate change, with only around 1,000 penguins left.