The South Pole is too inhospitable for wildlife, but there are some penguins who brave the conditions in the coastal areas, more than 760 miles from the pole. The South Pole is the southernmost point on the planet on Antarctica. While there may be no penguins around the South Pole itself, there are five primary species of penguin that inhabit the rocky shores, islands and sea ice of the Antarctic continent.
The chinstrap penguin is named after the thin black band that extends from ear to ear around the bottom of his chin. The penguin also differentiates himself from other penguins by having a white face. Chinstrap penguins breed in large colonies, sometimes as large as 100,000. They can be found throughout the Antarctic peninsula and its neighboring islands. The species survives almost entirely from a diet of krill, which is plentiful in Antarctic waters. Chinstrap penguins spend winters in the open ocean north of the Antarctic pack ice.
The Adelie penguin lives all along the Antarctic coast and its outlying islands. Like many penguin species, the Adelie variety lives in large colonies during the spring breeding season, which begins in October. Adelie build small nests with small rocks, sometimes stealing rocks from each other. In addition to krill, the Adelie penguins dine on fish and squid. They are capable of diving more than 500 feet in search of prey.
Standing up to 4 feet tall, the emperor penguin is the largest of all penguins. Emperors inhabit the Antarctic ice sheet and its surrounding waters, rather than breeding upon the rocky coast itself. Emperors breed in the winter, and the females each lay a single egg. The female then sets out to sea where she leaves the egg and male behind for up to two months. The males wait with the egg, without food, until the mother returns with a stomach full of food. The mother regurgitates the contents of its stomach to feed its chick, leaving the male free to break his fast and head to sea to feed. The emperor penguin population is threatened by melting pack ice attributed to global climate change.
Gentoo penguins live along the Antarctic peninsula and its islands. They inhabit the coastal areas, avoiding areas with sea ice. The third largest penguin, gentoos belong to a group known as "brush-tail" penguins, so called because of their long tail feathers. Males and females take turns guarding the nests while the others venture out to feed. Gentoos are highly territorial, fiercely defending the small area immediately surround their nests. They are not deep divers and primarily feed in shallow waters.
Macaroni penguins are the most colorful of Antarctic penguins, with black and yellow plumage that extends from above the beak. They can be found along the Antarctic peninsula and its islands, breeding in large colonies along the shoreline. Each female lays two eggs, the first of which almost never survives and is much smaller than the second egg. The difference in size between the two eggs is the largest of any other known bird. The Macaroni penguin is considered a vulnerable species that faces threats from commercial fishing, oil pollution, climate change and severe weather.
- IceCube: Life at the South Pole
- International Penguin Conservation Work Group -- Penguins of Antarctica
- Arkive: Chinstrap Penguin
- National Geographic: Adelie Penguin
- National Geographic: Emperor Penguin
- Animal Diversity: Gentoo Penguins
- Penguin World: Macaroni Penguin
- University of Washington Penguin Project: Macaroni Penguin
- Cool Antarctica: Frequently Asked Questions
- University Corporation for Atmospheric Research: Emperor Penguins Threatened by Antarctic Sea Ice Loss
Currently living in Austin, Texas, Alexander Harris is a business journalist covering the self storage industry for SpareFoot.com and SelfStorage.com. Harris previously wrote daily news for RichmondBizSense.com, a business journal in his hometown of Richmond, Va. His work has appeared in various other publications including "Philadelphia Citypaper," Stateline.org, "RVA Magazine" and the "Virginian-Pilot." Harris holds a mass communications degree from Virginia Commonwealth University.