The Gentoo Penguin, Pygoscelis papua (1781)
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Aves
Order : Sphenisciformes
Family : Spheniscidae
Genus : Pygoscelis
Species : P. papua
Subspecies : P.p. papua, P.p. ellsworthii
- Near threatened
- 90 cm tall and 8 kg (size)
- Antarctic zone (map)
The Gentoo 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 Adelie Penguins split off from the other members of the genus around 19 million years ago, and the Chinstrap and Gentoo finally diverging around 14 million years ago.
The breeding colonies of gentoo penguins are located on ice-free surface. Colonies can be directly dependent on the shoreline but are also considerably located inland. They prefer shallow coastal areas and often nest between tufts of grass. In South Georgia, for example, breeding colonies are two kilometres inland. Whereas in colonies farther inland, where the penguins nest between tufts of grass, they shift location slightly every year because the grass may get trampled over time.
Gentoos breed on many sub-Antarctic islands. The main colonies are on the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and Kerguelen Islands; smaller populations are found on Macquarie Island, Heard Islands, South Shetland Islands and the Antarctic Peninsula. The total breeding population is estimated to be over 300,000 pairs. Nests are usually made from a roughly circular pile of stones and can be quite large, 20 cm high and 25 cm in diameter. The stones are jealously guarded and their ownership can be the subject of noisy disputes between individual penguins. They are also prized by the females, even to the point that a male penguin can obtain the favors of a female by offering her a nice stone.