The Adélie Penguin, Pygoscelis adeliae, is a species of penguin common along the entire Antarctic coast. They are among the most southerly distributed of all
The 'Adélie Penguin', Pygoscelis adeliae', is a species of penguin common along the entire Antarctic coast. They are among the most southerly distributed of all seabirds, as are the Emperor Penguin, the South Polar Skua, the Wilson's Storm Petrel, the Snow Petrel, and the Antarctic Petrel. In 1840, French explorer Jules Dumont d'Urville named them for his wife, Adéle.
The Adélie 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 Adélie penguins split off from the other members of the genus around 19 million years ago.
Distribution and habitat
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There are 38 colonies of Adélie penguins, and there are over 5 million Adélies in the Ross Sea region. Ross Island supports a colony of approximately half a million Adélies. The Adélie penguins breed from October to February on shores around the Antarctic continent. Adelies build rough nests of stones. Two eggs are laid, these are incubated for 32 to 34 days by the parents taking turns (shifts typically last for 12 days). The chicks remain in the nest for 22 days before joining creches. The chicks moult into their juvenile plumage and go out to sea after 50 to 60 days.
Adelie penguins live in groups called colonies.
These penguins are mid-sized, being 46 to 75 cm (18 to 30 in) in length and 3.6 to 6 kg (7.9 to 13 lb) 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. The appearance looks somewhat like a tuxedo. They are smaller than other penguin species. Their appearance is closest to the stereotypical image of penguins as mostly black with a white belly.
Adelie penguins can swim up to 45 miles per hour.
Like all penguins, the Adélie is highly social, foraging and nesting in groups. They are also very aggressive to other penguins that steal stones from their nest.
Specifics of their behaviour were documented extensively by Apsley Cherry-Garrard (a survivor of Robert Falcon Scott’s fateful final journey to the South Pole) in his book The Worst Journey in the World. Cherry-Garrard noted; “They are extraordinarily like children, these little people of the Antarctic world, either like children or like old men, full of their own importance." Certain displays of their selfishness were commented upon by Levick during his surveying of penguins in the Antarctic, "At the place where they most often went in [the water], a long terrace of ice about six feet in height ran for some hundreds of yards along the edge of the water, and here, just as on the sea-ice, crowds would stand near the brink. When they had succeeded in pushing one of their number over, all would crane their necks over the edge, and when they saw the pioneer safe in the water, the rest followed.”
It was observed how the penguin's intrigue could also put them in harms way, which Scott found a particular nuisance, “The great trouble with [the dog teams] has been due to the fatuous conduct of the penguins. Groups of these have been constantly leaping on to our [ice] floe. From the moment of landing on their feet their whole attitude expressed devouring curiosity and a pig-headed disgregard for their own safety. They waddle forward, poking their heads to and fro in their usually absurd way, in spite of a string of howling dogs straining to get at them. “Hulloa!” they seem to say, “here’s a game – what do all you ridiculous things want?” And they come a few steps nearer. The dogs make a rush as far as their harness or leashes allow. The penguins are not daunted in the least, but their ruffs go up and they squawk with semblance of anger.” Regularly this attitude lead to the demise of an Adélie penguin, "Then the final fatal steps forward are taken and they come within reach. There is a spring, a squawk, a horrid red patch on the snow, and the incident is closed.” Others on the mission to the South Pole were more receptive of this element of the Adélie's intrigue. Cherry-Garrard; “Meares and Dimitri exercised the dog-teams out upon the larger floes when we were held up for any length of time. One day a team was tethered by the side of the ship, and a penguin sighted them and hurried from afar off. The dogs became frantic with excitement as he neared them: he supposed it was a greeting, and the louder they barked and the more they strained at their ropes, the faster he bustled to meet them. He was extremely angry with a man who went and saved him from a very sudden end, clinging to his trousers with his beak, and furiously beating his shins with his flippers.” This was an occurrence of some regularity, “It was not an uncommon sight to see a little Adélie penguin standing within a few inches of the nose of a dog which was almost frantic with desire and passion.”
Due to their obstinate personality traits Cherry-Garrard held the birds in great regard, “Whatever [an Adélie] penguin does has individuality, and he lays bare his whole life for all to see. He cannot fly away. And because he is quaint in all that he does, but still more because he is fighting against bigger odds than any other bird, and fighting always with the most gallant pluck.”
The Adélie penguin is known to feed mainly on Antarctic 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 18th century and Baleen whales in the 20th 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.
Adélie penguins arrive at their breeding grounds in October or November, at the end of winter and the start of spring. 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.
Adélie penguins living in the Ross Sea region migrate an average of about 13,000 kilometers during the year as they follow the sun from their breeding colonies to winter foraging grounds and back again. The longest treks have been recorded at 17,600 kilometers.
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