Can you name the 18 species of penguins?

To celebrate World Penguin Day, we take a look at the different penguin species, from the aptly named ‘little’ penguin to the towering emperor.

Can you name the 18 species of penguins?

To celebrate World Penguin Day, we take a look at the different penguin species, from the aptly named ‘little’ penguin to the towering emperor.

Can you name the 18 species of penguins?

25/04/2023

To celebrate World Penguin Day, we take a look at the different penguin species, from the aptly named ‘little’ penguin to the towering emperor.

Penguins are the most common birds in the Antarctic. And we love them! The sociable little charmers live in colonies running into the hundreds of thousands but they are also tough little birds, carving out an existence in some of the harshest environments on the planet. And they do it all while exuding joy and grace (well, mostly) throughout.

While all species of penguins have their similarities – they’re all flightless, have black and white coats and are utterly captivating – they actually come in a variety of shapes and sizes with their own distinct features.

We at UKAHT, of course, have our favourites. The colony at Port Lockroy is home to over 1,000 gentoo penguins and has a special place in hearts. With their wildfire-orange beaks, white-feather bonnets and rosy feet, the gentoo makes for a handsome penguin.

But there are also another 17 species of penguin (some say more) scattered around the frigid waters of the Southern Hemisphere.

How many species of penguins are there?

Historically, it was widely accepted that the number of worldwide penguin species was 17. However, in 2006, the rockhopper penguin was recognised as two different species, the southern rockhopper penguin (Eudyptes chrysocome) and the northern rockhopper penguin (Eudyptes moseleyi). 

A graphic showing the 18 species of penguins

The 18 species of penguins (Credit: UKAHT)

That said, there is still some debate around the categorisation. We’ve gone with the definition used by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and its network of penguin specialists, the Penguin Specialist Group. The IUCN is the global authority on the status of the natural world and the measures needed to safeguard it.

Sadly, the majority of living penguin species have declining populations. The IUCN classifies 18 species of penguins, 11 of which are identified as globally threatened according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species which identifies at-risk animal species. 

Of the 18 species, five are currently categorised as Least Concern (LC), two as Near Threatened (NT), six as Vulnerable (VU) and five as Endangered (EN). Fortunately, no species of penguins are currently listed as Critically Endangered (CR), Extinct in the Wild (EW) or  Extinct (EX).

18 species of penguins

Penguin species are divided among six genus divisions, or genera, commonly referred to as crested, banded, brush-tailed, large, yellow-eyed and little.

The largest species of penguin is the emperor penguin which on average grows up to around 1.1m (3ft 7in) and weighs around 35kg (77lb). The smallest species of penguin is the little penguin which stands around 30-33 cm (12-13in) tall and weighs 1.2 to 1.3kg (2.6 to 2.9lb).

Of the 18 species of penguin, only the emperor and the Adélie can really claim to call the Antarctic continent their true home. Others such as the chinstrap, gentoo and macaroni breed on the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, where conditions are less harsh, and often take to the sea or ride the ice northwards. 

All but one species of penguin lives exclusively in the Southern Hemisphere. Only the Galápagos penguin is found north of the Equator, on the Galápagos Islands which straddle the Equator in the Pacific Ocean 1,000km (600mi) west of mainland Ecuador.

1. King Penguin 

Scientific name: Aptenodytes patagonicus
Genus: large
Conservation status: Least Concern (LC)
Habitat: Subantarctic islands

The king penguin is the second largest species of penguin after the emperor. There are thought to be around 2.2 million breeding pairs of king penguins.

Two King Penguins

King penguins (Credit: Lifes_Sunday/Shutterstock)

Unlike most other penguin species, king penguin colonies are inhabited year-round due to their unusually long maturity cycle. A king penguin's maturity cycle takes between 14 and 16 months while most other penguin species are laid, hatch, and head off to the sea usually within the summer season.

2. Emperor Penguin

Scientific name: Aptenodytes forsteri
Genus: large
Conservation status: Least Concern (LC)
Habitat: Continental Antarctica

Emperors are the largest of the 18 species of penguin. They can grow to around 130cm tall and weigh up to 40kg. The species live in approximately 50 colonies that settle on ice shelves and fast ice along the coastline of Antarctica. 

A colony of the Emperor Penguin species

Emperor penguins (Credit: Vladsilver/Shutterstock)

They are one of only two species that live entirely on mainland Antarctica where there are approximately 595,000 adult emperor penguins. They are great divers: the deepest recorded dive of an emperor was 564m and the longest recorded dive was nearly 28 minutes. 

3. Gentoo Penguin

Scientific name: Pygoscelis papua
Genus: brush-tailed
Conservation status: Least Concern (LC)
Habitat: Antarctic Peninsula, Subantarctic islands, southern continental coasts and islands, South Atlantic islands

Gentoo penguins are the third largest penguin, following the emperor and king. They are closely related to Adélies and chinstraps but have distinctive orange-red bills and feet. 

A species of Gentoo Penguin jumps onto an iceberg

Gentoo penguins (Credit: Rooh183/Shutterstock)

It's estimated there are around 774,000 gentoo penguins. Gentoo penguins usually mate with the same partner every year and rear two chicks on nests made of pebbles and feathers.

4. Adélie Penguin 

Scientific name: Pygoscelis adeliae
Genus: brush-tailed
Conservation status: Least Concern (LC)
Habitat: Continental Antarctica, Antarctic Peninsula, Subantarctic islands

Adélies are one of only two species (the other being emperors) that live entirely on mainland Antarctica. It got its name from French explorer Jules Dumont d'Urville who, on discovering the sea birds in 1840, named them after his wife, Adéle.

Adélie Penguins

Adélie Penguins (Credit: Dominic Hall/Shutterstock)

Adélies are known as the feistiest penguin species. They’ve been known to take on predators such as seals or large seabirds and even researchers who get too close. It's extremely difficult to make accurate estimates, but it's thought there may be over 10 million Adélies in Antarctica. Overall, their numbers are increasing bt they are under threat from climate change.

5. Chinstrap Penguin

Scientific name: Pygoscelis antarcticus
Genus: brush-tailed
Conservation status: Least Concern (LC)
Habitat: Subantarctic islands

Chinstrap penguins may be the most abundant penguin species with a population of around 7.5 million breeding pairs (15 million in total). It's easy to see how they got their name thanks to the black band – or strap – around their, er, chin.

Chinstrap Penguins

Any guesses how Chinstraps got their name? (Credit: Jeremykingnz/Shutterstock)

Chinstraps gather in massive breeding colonies. The largest colony, on the uninhabited South Sandwich island of Zavodovski, hosts around 1.2 million breeding pairs.

6. Southern Rockhopper Penguin

Scientific name: Eudyptes chrysocome
Genus: crested
Conservation status: Vulnerable (VU) 
Habitat: Subantarctic islands, South Atlantic, Indian and Pacific coasts and islands

Known for their irreverent crest of spiky yellow and black head feathers, rockhoppers were named for their distinctive hopping movements over the rocky hills and cliffs where they live and breed.

A Southern Rockhopper Penguin

A Southern Rockhopper penguin (Credit: Giedriius/Shutterstock)

Only in 2006 were rockhoppers recognised as two different species, the southern and northern. Even though rockhoppers are one of the world's most numerous penguin populations, it is estimated that the combined population of both has declined by around 30% over the last 50 years. The southern rockhopper penguin group has a global population of around one million pairs. 

7. Northern Rockhopper Penguin

Scientific name: Eudyptes moseleyi
Genus: crested
Conservation status: Endangered (EN)
Habitat: Subantarctic islands, South Atlantic islands

The most noticeable difference between southern and northern rockhoppers is that the 'eyebrow' of the northern is significantly longer than that of their Southern relatives. Northern rockhoppers are also slightly larger and have longer crest feathers while southern rockhoppers are smaller and have shorter, spiky crests.

Northern Rockhopper Penguins

Northern Rockhopper penguins (Credit: Frankie Gamble/Shutterstock)

The vast majority of northern rockhoppers breed on the islands of Tristan da Cunha and Gough Island in the South Atlantic Ocean. They are far more at risk than southern rockhoppers with estimates suggesting the population of northern rockhoppers has declined by as much as 90% since the 1950s. As such, the northern rockhopper is classified as endangered.

8. Fiordland Penguin

Scientific name: Eudyptes pachyrhynchus
Genus: crested
Conservation status: Vulnerable (VU) 
Habitat: New Zealand

The Fiordland crested penguin, or tawaki, is endemic to New Zealand and one of the rarest of New Zealand's mainland penguins. It is characterised by a thick stripe of pale yellow feather plumes above each eye that extends from the bill to the rear of the head.

A Fiordland penguin species

A Fiordland penguin (Credit: John Yunker/Shutterstock)

Fiordlands nests in colonies among tree roots and rocks in dense temperate coastal forests along the shores of the West Coast of New Zealand's South Island. There are believed to be around 2,500 pairs of Fiordland penguins.

9. Snares Penguin

Scientific name: Eudyptes robustus
Genus: crested
Conservation status: Vulnerable (VU) 
Habitat: New Zealand

Another endemic New Zealander, the Snares penguin species only breeds on the Snares Islands, a group of islands off the southern coast of New Zealand's South Island. Occasionally, the species has been spotted on the coasts of Tasmania, the Chatham Islands, Stewart Island and the southern New Zealand mainland.

Snares penguins

Snares penguins (Credit: Janelle Lugge/Shutterstock)

There are approximately 25,000 living pairs of Snares penguins, mostly living in dense colonies under the tree cover of the forests or on coastal rocks.

10. Erect-crested Penguin

Scientific name: Eudyptes sclateri
Genus: crested
Conservation status: Endangered (EN)
Habitat: New Zealand

It doesn't take a zoologist to work out how these guys got their name thanks to a distinctive crest of yellow plumes that are erect or bristle up over their eyes. 

A colony of Erect-crested Penguins

Erect-crested penguins (Credit: CHG/Shutterstock)

The erect-crested penguin is endemic to the New Zealand region and only breeds on the subantarctic islands of Bounty and Antipodes. The current population is estimated at 150,000 mature individuals.

11. Macaroni Penguin

Scientific name: Eudyptes chrysolophus
Genus: crested 
Conservation status: Vulnerable (VU)
Habitat: Antarctic Peninsula, Subantarctic islands, South Atlantic and Indian coasts and islands

This penguin was not named after pasta but after a term used to describe a fashionable fellow in 18th-century England thanks to its large reddish-orange bill, black face and chin and long crest of yellow-orange feathers that contrast with the black feathers on the head. 

the Macaroni Penguin species

Macaroni penguins (Credit: Charles Bergman/Shutterstock)

A 1993 study estimated that the macaroni may be the most abundant species of penguin, with over 11 million pairs worldwide.

12. Royal Penguin

Scientific name: Eudyptes schlegeli
Genus: crested
Conservation status: Vulnerable (VU) 
Habitat: Macquarie Island and nearby islands

Royal penguins are the largest of the crested penguins and are often confused with macaroni penguins. in fact, some ornithologists maintain that the royal penguin is a subspecies of the macaroni penguin. 

Royal Penguin species

A Royal penguin (Credit: Agami Photo Agency/Shutterstock)

Once hunted for their oil, royal penguin numbers were decimated from a total population of around three million. Their numbers have since recovered to around 850,000.

13. Yellow-eyed Penguin

Scientific name: Megadyptes antipodes
Genus: yellow-eyed
Conservation status: Endangered (EN)
Habitat: New Zealand

Another New Zealand native, the yellow-eyed penguin is also known as hoiho or tarakaka and is the largest of the penguins breeding on the New Zealand mainland. It is characterised by pale yellow eyes, yellow eye bands and yellow feathers that cover the upper part of the head. 

two Yellow-eyed Penguins on rocks

Yellow-eyed penguins (Credit: CHG/Shutterstock)

With an estimated population of around 4,000, the yellow-eyed penguin is one of the rarest penguin species in the world. It is under threat, suffering from habitat degradation and introduced predators.

14. Little Penguin

Scientific name: Eudyptula minor
Genus: little
Conservation status: Least Concern (LC)
Habitat: Australia and New Zealand

Little by name, little by nature. You may have guessed that the little penguin is the smallest species of penguin. Found along the southern coast of Australia and around New Zealand, the little penguin is sometimes described as two separate species bringing the total number of species to 19, instead of 18. 

Two Little Penguin species

Little penguins (Credit: EQRoy/Shutterstock)

Also called the blue penguin, little blue penguin or fairy penguin, there are believed to be between 350,000 and 600,000 little penguins although numbers are declining.

15. African Penguin

Scientific name: Spheniscus demersus
Genus: banded
Conservation status: Endangered (EN)
Habitat:  South Africa and Namibia

Africa's only penguin, the African penguin is also called the black-footed penguin, Cape penguin or jackass penguin. It is characterised by a single band of black feathers cutting across the breast and a circle of featherless skin that completely surrounds each eye. 

Two African Penguins

Two African penguins (Credit: Sergey Uryadnikov/Shutterstock)

The African penguin is only found along the southwestern coast of Africa, living in colonies on 24 islands along the Namibian and South African coasts. Once as high as four million, their numbers have been decimated over the last 200 years, falling to a historic low of around 20,850 pairs in 2019.

16. Humboldt Penguin

Scientific name: Spheniscus humboldti
Genus: banded
Conservation status: Vulnerable (VU)
Habitat: Western South America

The Humboldt penguin, also known as the Peruvian penguin, is a banded species of penguin only found on the coasts of Peru and Chile and nearby Pacific islands.

Humboldt Penguins

Humboldt penguins (Credit: Douglas725/Shutterstock)

They are named after the cold water current that flows through their coastal range, which in turn, was named after German explorer Alexander von Humboldt. The present population is estimated at around 32,000 mature individuals but is declining. 

17. Magellanic Penguin

Scientific name: Spheniscus magellanicus
Genus: banded
Conservation status: Near Threatened (NT)
Habitat: Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Falkland Islands

Named after Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, who spotted the birds in 1520, the Magellanic penguin is known for its black body and white belly – countershading that helps it avoid predators while swimming. 

A Magellanic Species of Penguin

A Magellanic penguin (Credit: Brester Irina/Shutterstock)

A 2013 study estimated that there are between 1.1 million and 1.6 million breeding pairs of Magellanic penguins worldwide. 

18. Galapagos Penguin 

Scientific name: Spheniscus mendiculus
Genus: banded
Conservation status: Endangered (EN)
Habitat: Galapagos Islands

The Galápagos penguin is the only species found north of the equator, in the, you guessed it, Galápagos Islands of Ecuador. Galápagos penguins are a monogamous species, each pair mating for life. 

A Galapagos species of penguin

A Galapagos penguin (Credit: Asiadomaga/Shutterstock)

They are the rarest penguin species in the world with estimates suggesting there are fewer than 1,000 breeding pairs of Galápagos penguins remaining in the world.

Christmas postcard from Antarctica

Would you like to send a Christmas postcard from the penguin post office in Antarctica?

We are offering our supporters the opportunity to send a limited-edition Christmas postcard with a personalised message from the world’s southernmost post office at Port Lockroy. For just £20, you can support our work and receive a truly unique piece of mail.

Send your postcard

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The gentoos of Port Lockroy are perhaps some of the most famous penguins in the world! The colony made their home with us on Goudier Island over 30 years ago and we have been studying and contributing to their protection ever since. Inquisitive, fluffy and funny, we love sharing their activity with everyone around the world.

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