Skip to main content

What’s in a (penguin's) name?

The Adélie penguin got it's name from the French Antarctic explorer, Jules Dumont d'Urville. On discovering these sea birds in 1840 he decided to name them after his beloved wife – Adéle. The scientific name for the Adélie penguin is Pygoscelis adeliae. Pygoscelis means ‘rump-legged’, but the genus is better known as 'brush-tailed penguins'.

Slapping above it's weight

The Adélie is the littlest species of penguin in the Antarctic. It might look cute and a bit clumsy on land but don’t be fooled, these birds are feisty. They’ve been known to take on potential predators – seals or large seabirds – or even attack visiting researchers with their flippers. Slap!

Get off my rock!

Male Adélies are nest builders. Their aim is to attract a female by building the biggest and best nest. To do this they use small rocks they collect from the surrounding areas and roll them back with their beaks or - if small enough - pick them up with their beaks. If they think their nest is lacking rocks, or even the best ones to attract the females, the cheeky little Adélie will steal rocks from their neighbours' nests. Naughty.

Naughty but nice

Although the Adélies main source of food is krill and small fish, it occasionally feeds on jellyfish, particularly those with visible gonads. According to researchers, the carbon and protein content of the gonads is greater than that of any other part of the jellyfish, which is the suspected reason for this habit.

Dressed to impress

Male and female Adélies are a very similar size and have very similar features, which makes it hard to tell the difference between them. They sport a characteristic 'tuxedo' look, with a black back and head, white chest and belly, and white rings around the eyes.

Out to sea

At seven to nine weeks old, Adélie penguin chicks leave the colony to go to sea. Most chicks will not return to the breeding colony again, until they are old enough to breed at 3–5 years old.

Fast food

On land, Adélies waddle around about 1.5mph. In the water however, they’re pretty fast, as they’re built for swimming. An Adelie penguin can swim at around 2.5 - 5 mph, but it can reach speeds of up to 9.3 mph when hunting, or fleeing from its predators, like leopard seals or orca whales.

A true local

There are 18 different species of penguin. However, only two species truly make the Antarctic their home by living and breeding there  – the Emperor penguin and – yes you guessed it – the Adélie penguin.

Step aside, Tom Daley

When diving for food for themselves and to feed their chicks, Adélies can hold their breath for up to six minutes and frequently reach 150m. However, they can dive deeper. The deepest recorded dive by an Adélie penguin is 180m – that’s like diving off Blackpool Tower, and then some!

Climate change impacts Adélies

Overall, Adélie penguin numbers are increasing. However, in the Antarctic Peninsula where Adélie and Gentoo penguins breed together, gentoos are thriving in the warmer temperatures and lower sea-ice conditions resulting from climate change, and may out-compete Adélie penguins as the climate changes further.

How you can help Antarctic penguins

You can help us to safeguard Adélie and Emperor penguins in the Antarctic by adopting them today. This helps us to fund projects to monitor penguins and how their habitat is affected by climate change, supporting the designation of Antarctic marine protected areas.

Adopt a penguin today