Ask A Researcher

Do you have questions about Adelie Penguins? Search this list of previously asked questions by students and adults from all over the world.

biology and Habitat
1. How many Adélie Penguins are there?

Distributed around the Antarctic in about 161 colonies are about 2.5 million breeding pairs (5 million birds), as well as an equal number of non-breeders (5 million). The total, then, is about 10 million ‘adults.’

2. Where do Adélie Penguins go in the winter?

Adélie Penguins can not see well in the dark. Therefore they must spend the winter near or north of the Antarctic Circle (south of which the number of days during which the sun does not rise increases with higher latitude, i.e. moving south). They also need to occur where the sea ice is stable (not moving rapidly owing to local winds) and is sparse enough that it is easy to find access to the ocean between ice floes. However, they do not occur very far into the open waters that are north of the sea ice.

3. How long do penguins usually live?

The oldest Adelie Penguin in a zoo lived to 30 years; the oldest known individual in the wild was 20 years. Most live to about 15 years, once they survive their first few years.

4. How big is the biggest Adelie penguin?

They are about 30 cm tall; the smallest female might be ~28 cm and the tallest male about 32 cm. Their body mass changes from ~6 kg in the spring to ~4 kg by the end of the chick-rearing period.

5. How do the penguins communicate with each other?

Penguins communicate by voice and by body gestures to court a mate, recognize their mate after an absence, fend off intruders on their territory and find their chick in the crowd. These behaviors are called social displays.

6. Do they like the cold air?

Penguins have many adaptations to keep them warm. When the temperature gets a few degrees above freezing they must work to lose heat by panting and fluffing their feathers.

7.Do penguins ever start fighting and go off on their own?

Yes penguins fight, sometimes drawing blood. They use their beaks to bite and their wings so hit.

8. How do the Adelie penguins protect themselves and their egg(s)?

Adelie penguins protect themselves, their eggs and chicks by pecking at intruders to their nest area. Their beaks are very strong and can deliver a mean bite.

9. What exterme temps can peguins live in?

-50oC to +5oC

10. How hard can an Adelie Penguin bite? (Arthur, CA)

They can give you a cut. Ouch!

11. How much of a territory do penguins have? (Nicholas)

Their nest is about 1 meter from center to center. Just enough distance so neighbors can not peak each other.

12. I have seen a movie where the male penguin gives a pebble to a girl penguin and then they fall in love. Is that true? We knew that they build their nests out of pebbles. (Ferrisburgh, 1st grade, VT)

The males build nest out of rocks and wait for the females to come lay their eggs. During the brooding and guard both members of the pair continue bringing rocks to the nest

13. Do males or females have different color markings to tell them apart? (Becca, NY)

No, the females and males have the same color markings. We can not tell them apart if they are just standing around in a group.

14. How many penguins are in one colony?

The numbers vary widely. Some colonies are small, just 100 nests, but others are very large, totaling 180,000 nests.

15. Do Adelie penguins mate for life? Or just for the season?

Many pairs will stay together for several years, but sometimes a mate will not return, so a new mate will be found.

16. How does the dad penguin stay alive when the mom goes hunting for food for a couple months?(

While a nesting penguin is waiting for the mate to return, he or she lives on the layers of fat that they accumulate when feeding. If the mate does not return before the reserves are used up, the penguin will abandon the nest and go forage for food. The longest time we know of that a male has gone without feeding is about 8 weeks; females about 3 weeks.

17. How can the penguins breathe under water and what if they eat a rotten fish?(

Penguins do not breath underwater, they hold their breath. They catch their food alive so it is very fresh.

18. Do penguins hold their breath and if so how long?

Adelie penguins can hold their breath for as long as 3 min when they dive for food.

19. Why can't penguins fly?

Both air and water are “liquids.” It’s just that water is much “thicker” than air. Penguins do fly, but through the water and can swim very fast. Their wings and wing feathers are very small compared to flying birds and their bodies heavier, so flight in the air is not possible for this bird.