Gentoo penguins are one of the largest penguins species. Their head, neck and back are covered with dark grey feathers while on the underside they have white feathers. A white triangle of feathers sits above each eye with a stripe joining these across the crown.
These penguins have an orange beak and feet. Their feet have webbing between the toes to assist with swimming. Their tail is longer than that of the other penguin species.
Individuals which live in areas with a colder climate tend to have smaller flippers, feet and beak which helps them to conserve heat.
Males are often larger than females. They measure between 70 and 95cm (27.6-35.4in) long and weigh 4.5-8.5kg (9.9-18.7lbs). Their weight varies considerably throughout the year with the largest weights seen during the month long molting period. Their wingspan is 22.2-25.6cm (8.7-10in).
Gentoo penguins are carnivores. Their diet is mainly made up of fish, krill, crustaceans and cephalopods. The make up of their diet varies throughout the year.
These items are caught during long fishing trips at sea. While underwater their metabolic rate slows conserving oxygen and allowing them to stay underwater for long periods. Most of their foraging takes place close to the shore near the breeding colony.
At sea groups may work together to obtain fish.
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Antarctica and the Sub-Antarctic islands are the main homes of gentoo penguins with some also living in southern South America. They can be found in the following countries or territories – Antarctica, Argentina, Australia (Macquarie Is.), Chile, Falkland Islands (Malvinas), French Southern Territories (Kerguelen, Crozet Is.), Heard Island and McDonald Islands, South Africa (Marion-Prince Edward Is.), South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.
Occasionally they can be found in New Zealand, Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha.
They make their home on flat beaches and among grass tussocks in the warmer areas of their range. In the colder areas they can be found on gravel beaches and dry moraines.
Breeding occurs from June through to November. The pair will individually work to make nests using pebbles and may share pebbles as an indication of their interest in one another. Molted feathers may also be used to line the nest.
Males will bellow out once they have finished building their nest site and females will come and inspect it to see if it is suitable for them.
Each year the colony moves its breeding ground slightly to allow the vegetation to regrow.
Two eggs will be deposited in to the nest roughly three days apart then incubated by both parents for 35 days.
Fledging is variable across their range. In the south they fledge between 62 and 82 days old while in the north this occurs between 85 and 117 days old.
Sexual maturity is reached at two years old though most individuals will not breed till three or four years old.
Gentoo penguins nest in smaller colonies than other similar penguins with the largest including 6,000 members.
They are mostly silent with a braying call used during the breeding season.
Each year they molt their old feathers during which time they are not waterproof. Before this they will go out to sea and gorge themselves before reaching their highest weight for the year. They then survive on this fat reserve while they can not swim.
Predators and Threats
Natural predators of the gentoo penguin include seals such as the leopard seal, waddell seals and fur seals along with southern sea lions. Chicks are taken by birds such as skuas, petrels and kelp gulls along with domestic cats.
Humans impact the numbers of the gentoo penguins through overfishing which both depletes their food source and may lead to accidental capture of these birds.
There is growing oil exploration around their habitat and this poses a threat through oil spills. Algal blooms also cause an increase in deaths.
Large scale egg collection used to occur on Frankland island but this has since been regulated and is now believed to be occurring at sustainable levels.
Gentoo penguins are the fastest penguin species in the water. They are capable of travelling at up to 22mph (35.4km/h).
These are the third largest penguins species after the emperor and king penguins.
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