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28 types of penguin: The only list you'll ever need

By Devon Bowen
- Blog
28 types of penguin: the only list you'll ever need

Warning: High risk of controversy and/or cuteness. The world's penguins are a diverse and interesting bunch. Part of that diversity is the range of species - but where the species line is drawn is difficult to determine, especially in animals that are as closely related as penguins. Taxonomists agree that there are at least 16 penguin species, but there are arguments to be made for up to 22! Whether species, subspecies or colour morphs* - here are the 28 "types" of penguins that walk the earth.

1. African penguin

African black-footed penguins (Spheniscus demersus) are the only species of penguin native to Africa, living only in South Africa and Namibia. They use their noisy birdsong to identify each other, find a mate and ask for food.

Boulders beach 3272643 1280

2. Northern rockhopper penguin

Northern rockhoppers (Eudyptes moseleyi) are native to Tristan da Cunha and Gough Island. Inhabiting naturally uninhabited islands, these little birds have little fear of humans and treat us with curiosity - all they want is your love and respect.

Eudyptes moseleyi

3. King penguin

King penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus patagonicus) are native to the frozen and cold islands of the southern Atlantic Ocean, particularly the Falkland Islands. These penguins are stunningly beautiful, but their fuzzy brown chicks may just be the ugly ducklings of all penguins. These majestic birds are the second largest penguin species.

Falkland Islands Penguins 25

4. Adélie penguin

For many people, Adélie penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae) are by far the cutest species, but did you know that these Antarctic predators are one of the region's most fierce hunters. Unfortunately, climate change is affecting their food source and thousands of their chicks starve every year.

Polar researchers photograph adelie penguins on the ice pack 74a81a 1024

5. Fairy penguin

Fairy penguins (Eudyptula minor minor), also known as southern little penguins, inhabit the western and southeastern coasts of the southern island of New Zealand. Fairy penguins and other little penguin subspecies are the smallest penguins on the planet, and the only ones with blue eyes and feathers.

Eudyptula minor minor

6. Yellow-eyed penguin

The uninspiringly-named yellow-eyed penguins (Megadyptes antipodes) call New Zealand's South Island home, where they are known as "hoiho" - Maori for "noise shouter". With fewer than 3 400 of these penguins remaining, they are the species facing the most critical risk of extinction in the very near future.

Yellow eyed penguin 15238441601

7. Chinstrap penguin

Chinstrap penguins (Pygoscelis antarcticus) call the shores of Antarctica and several Pacific and Southern Ocean islands home. Not only do chinstrap penguins look like they are wearing little army helmets all the time, but they are the most common penguin on Antarctica - with almost 13 million individuals.

Chinstrap penguin on deception island 39985995

8. Magellanic penguin

Magellanic penguins (Spheniscus magellanicus) look very similar to African penguins, but they have a dark black neck stripe which distinguishes them from their African cousins. They inhabit the southern coasts of South America, but do occasionally nest as far north as Brazil. Unlike their African counterparts, Magellanic penguins actively hunt jellyfish!

Magellanic Penguin with chicks 5540904637

9. Southern rockhopper penguin

Southern rockhopper penguins (Eudyptes chrysocome chrysocome) call the Falkland Islands home. They look very similar to other rockhoppers, but do not have the usual patch of pale skin below their beaks, and a few black feathers in their crests. They are cute, but their birdsong is very rough and they are probably the least musical penguin.

Falkland Islands Penguins 87

10. Macaroni penguin

Macaroni penguins (Eudyptes chrysolophus) are the most abundant species in the world, with almost 24 million penguins in 260 colonies spanning South America, Australia, Antarctica and Marion Island - more than all other penguins combined. They are vulnerable, as almost all colonies are under threat from human settlement, but huge conservation efforts are being made to protect these little ones in Chile and Argentina.

Macaroni js1

11. Australian little penguin

Australian little penguins (Eudyptula novaehollandiae), live on the southern Australian coast, Tasmania and a single small colony in New Zealand. They were only recently determined to be a unique species by DNA testing. Australian little penguins "speak" with a higher pitched "accent" than their closely related New Zealand cousins.

Eudyptula novaehollandiae

12. Emperor penguin

Emperor penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri) are the largest and tallest of all the penguins, and call the shores of Antarctica home. These penguins nest almost exclusively on Antarctic sea ice, making them the only bird species that never sets foot on land.

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13. Snares penguin

Snares crested penguins (Eudyptes robustus) are very unusual, nesting in open coastal forests on small islets around New Zealand's South Island. The main way these penguins communicate is by chest pumping to attract mates and bowing regularly to their partners and children.

Snares Penguin Eudyptes robustus group

14. Galápagos penguin

Galápagos penguins (Spheniscus mendiculus) are the northernmost species of penguin, living on the equatorial Galápagos archipelago. They are a banded penguin, closely related to the African penguin, but far smaller. Their small size allows them to subsist entirely on small coastal minnows and shellfish, avoiding deep-water predators.

Galapagos Penguin 47725915092

15. Erect-crested penguin

Inhabiting Bounty and Antipodes Islands of New Zealand, erect-crested penguins (Eudyptes sclateri) are serious long-distance swimmers - hunting as far as South America and Antarctica to fatten up for their summer moults. We think they have the coolest hairstyles of all penguins - and they spend large amounts of time grooming each other!

Breeding pair of Erect crested penguins at their nest

16. Royal penguin

Royal penguins (Eudyptes schlegeli) are unusual, living only on the sub-Antarctic island of Macquarie. They look like Macaroni penguins, but with white faces instead of a black ones - for this reason there is much disagreement about whether they are actually two distinct species. Together with the Macaroni penguin, these are the only two species whose crests meet in the middle.

Royal Penguin F Ace

17. Humboldt penguin

Another close relative of African penguins, Humboldt penguins (Spheniscus humboldti) have a distinct black face with a white ring around it and pink exposed skin below its bill. A Humboldt penguin made world news when it escaped from Tokyo Sea Life Park by climbing a 4m high wall and a barbed wire fence. It then survived in the waters of Japan for 82 days before being found.

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Credit: Tambako The Jaguar [CC BY-ND 2.0]

19. Fiordland penguin

Fiordland penguins (Eudyptes pachyrhynchus) are small crested penguins of New Zealand's South Island. They are unusual (and awesome), as they are the only penguin to live in rainforests!

Fiordland Crested Penguin

20. Allied king penguin

Allied king penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus halli) inhabit the southern islands of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, such as Marion Island. There are no easily identifiable differences between the two types of king penguins, but they are genetically distinct. Allied king penguins tend to be highly variable in size due to the different diets they are exposed to on the islands they inhabit.

Falkland Islands Penguins 47

Some Gentoo uncertainty...

Gentoo penguins have generally been regarded as a single species, with a smaller subspecies that lives on Antarctica (Pygoscelis papua ellsworthii) and a larger one that inhabits Subantarctic islands (Pygoscelis papua papua), such as South Africa's Marion Island. A recent genetic study in Ecology and Evolution has revealed that not only are those two subspecies actually distinct species, but the Subantarctic variety is actually divided into three! These proposed 4 gentoo species divisions are not yet verified, but it seems certain that they will at least be regarded as new subspecies of Pygoscelis papua.

21. Falkland Island gentoo a.k.a. Northern gentoo

Gentoo penguins (Pygoscelis papua) are larger than the other types of gentoos, even though those are the ones you most likely recognise from photos. These gentoos inhabit the Falkland Islands, but are also considered inhabitants of other southern Indian and Atlantic Oceans islands, such as Marion Island, in definitions that do not include the two new species. They make their nests from mounds of grass collected near their beaches.

Pygoscelis papua papua

22. Ellsworth's gentoo a.k.a. Southern gentoo

Ellsworth's gentoo penguins (Pygoscelis papua ellsworthii, proposed Pygoscelis ellsworthii) live exclusively on the coast of Antarctica. They look virtually identical to their non-Antarctic counterparts, but are significantly smaller - a possible adaptation to food scarcity in the colder Antarctic waters. These gentoos have also adapted to next on gravelly beaches and the mouths of rocky glacial valleys on the Western Antarctic Peninsula, South Shetland Islands and South Orkney Islands.

Pygoscelis papua ellsworthii

23. Kerguelen gentoo a.k.a. Eastern gentoo

Despite its name, the colour pattern of the Kerguelen gentoo (Pygoscelis taeniata) is virtually identical to other gentoos. Originally described as a member of the Pygoscelis papua papua subspecies, these small gentoos are now being more commonly regarded as a distinct species - with some speculating that they may be further divided in future. They are home to this namesake, the Kerguelen/Desolation Islands in the Southern Ocean, as well as Macquarie, Crozet, Heard and Marion Islands. - that means that South Africa's gentoos may soon be reclassified! 

Manchot papou et son bébé

24. South Georgia gentoo penguin

South Georgia gentoos (Pygoscelis poncetii) are the second-largest type of gentoo penguin, although they too have the identical colour pattern. They are otherwise similar in lifestyle to other island-dwelling gentoos, although it has been noted that their population is in decline due to depleting fish stocks in their local waters.

Moutling Korora

27. North Island little penguin

Northern little penguins (Eudyptula minor iredalei) live at the northern end of the northern island of New Zealand.

North Island Little Penguin

28. Chatham Island little penguin

Chatham Island little penguins (Eudyptula minor chathamensis) nest on Chatham Island, to the east of New Zealand.


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