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.

1. How cold is it in Antarctica?

In the Ross Sea area where we are studying the Adélie Penguins, the highest summer temperature is about 41oF (5oC), the lowest winter temperature is about -58oF (-50oC). The yearly average temperature is 0oF (-17oC). Staying warm is a year-long concern for these penguins.

2. Do Adélie Penguins bite?

Penguins do not have teeth like humans but will pinch hard with their beaks, which are very sharp, to protect themselves, their nests or their chicks.

3. How can you tell the females from the males?

When a mated pair of penguins are together, the male is slightly larger than his mate, particularly evident in his bill. In a crowd, though, it almost impossible to distinguish female from male penguins. There are, however, nesting-related social behaviors that males do that females don’t, and vice versa.

4. How fast can the Adélie Penguin walk?

Maximum walking speed is about 2.4 mph (3.9 kph). Their webbed feet have visible toes (claws) that help them grip the ice, like the crampons that humans use when climbing ice. Sometimes Adélie Penguins toboggan, which means the lay on their bellies and push along with their feet, aided by their flippers.

5. Where does the word “penguin” come from?

The first animal called penguin was a flightless bird of the Arctic sea, also known as the Great Auk which was similar to penguins in anatomy. The Great Auk no longer exists, having been exterminated by humans. When explorers discovered similar birds in the Antarctica region they named them the same way. The word itself originally seemed to mean ‘fat one’ in Spanish/Portuguese, and may come from either the Welsh ‘pen gwyn’ (white head), or from the Latin ‘pinguis’ (fat) or from a corruption of ‘pin-wing’ (pinioned wings).

6. What is the greatest threat to Adélie Penguins?

Their greatest threat is alteration of their ecosystem caused by human activities. The most pressing issue is depletion of large fish and whales, which causes major changes in the food web and in turn directly and indirectly affects the penguins’ ability to find food. Climate change caused by increased carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses in our atmosphere is important, too. Warming temperatures have greatly reduced the amount of sea ice available to Adélie penguins at the northern edge of their range (western Antarctic Peninsula), and populations there are decreasing rapidly. The depletion of fish in that region has made it more difficult for the penguins to cope with climate change. Elsewhere in the Antarctic, for instance the Ross Sea, Adélie Penguins are not decreasing and, in fact, are increasing in response to loosened sea ice (easier penguin access to food). This is a hugely complex issue, and in the near future, our educational program, called Penguin Science, will provide web-based information, with lots of animated graphics and film to make it more understandable to everyone.

7. How do penguins interact with people?

Penguins are not afraid of humans and if you sit still they will walk up pull at your shoe laces or clothes to try to figure out what these things are. If you move they’ll run away. If you get closer than about 10’ when they are on their territory they will ‘growl’ at you. If you get closer they’ll bite and beat you with their flippers. They do the same to other penguins.

8 Do you have fun while researching the penguins?

Yes, working outdoors, with animals, and in Antarctica is always fun.

9. Does the fence go all around the colony so the penguins all have to go through the same gate? Is there more than one gate? (Ferrisburgh, 1st grade, VT)

Yes the fence goes around the whole group in the colony. There is only one gate, but only a small percent of the total penguin colony live in the fenced area.

10. How come all the water you use to drink a plane has to bring it in, why can’t you just drink the water in the sea?

The sea water is too salty for us to drink and so is the snow around us because of the wind off the ocean which brings salt spray.

11. What do the Skuas eat in the winter when there are no penguin chicks to hunt?

They catch fish from the ocean, even when there are penguin eggs and chicks to eat.

12. Do you think the penguins know that we are watching them?

Yes penguins know we are watching them. They are very wary and alert. However, if you sit very still they will come up to you.

13. I was looking at the photos from the penguin nests. I noticed that some of the penguins have a brown and red color on their white feathers. Is it dirt or blood?

Penguins lay on the ground to rest so get very dirty. The brown you see is dirt. The red is regurgitated krill which they feed their chicks and some of it gets slopped over. They also
get hit with other penguin quano if they lay too close to them. Penguins squirt their guano away from their nest and themselves in a stream that goes up to 2 ft, so any penguin in the area gets hit. That may be green, white or brown. Penguins can get very colorful when they have been hanging around the colony. You can tell the ones that have just come back from the ocean to feed, they are sparkling white and shiny black.