Like other penguins, rockhopper penguins have traded flying in the skies for flying in the seas. But they have plenty of traits that set them apart.
Like other penguins, rockhopper penguins have traded flying in the skies for flying in the seas. They’re covered in three layers of short, thick feathers and their wings are powerful, narrow, and distinctively flipperlike.
Three guesses what caught our eye, though—and what makes them unique amongst their waddling, tuxedo-wearing cousins—earning them a spot on our Wildlife Wednesday.
Nope, not Antarctica. These flamboyant fish lovers are found along the rocky shorelines of the various islands to the north of the world’s whitest continent; they belong to Argentina, Chile, New Zealand, South Africa, and a host of other countries.
- Rockhopper penguins have a few things that set them apart from rest of their tuxedo-wearing relatives:
- an eye-catching crest of black feathers that jut from the tops of their heads
- brilliant red eyes
- bold yellow plumage—called the superciliary stripe—that protrude from above each eye
- It’s entirely possible, though, that they’re trying to compensate for their lack of height. These penguins are among the world’s smallest, measuring only 20 in (50 cm) tall.
- They’re also known for their habit of hopping (as opposed to the waddling done by most penguins) as a way to traverse their rocky homes—hence the name.
- Their rather oddly shaped wings have made them well adapted to their high-diving lifestyle, making them extremely agile in the water and capable of diving as deep as 330 ft (100 m).
- Their unique appendages also make them the perfect hunters for their favourite foods of fish, krill, squid, and various crustaceans.
Why are they threatened?
The two subspecies of rockhopper penguins both face similar—and varying—threats to their survival.
One major concern is climate change, which is thought to drive the penguins’ food supply away from the shores that they live upon and, due to retreating glaciers, might also make the islands friendlier to the birds’ predators.
Meanwhile, marine pollution caused by tourism, commercial fisheries, and general debris have also been known to have an effect on these petite penguins. Leaking oil and diesel can damage the waterproofing of their feathers and plastic might look like a tasty snack to a hungry bird.
Other threats include predation by introduced animals, competitions with and becoming the bycatch of commercial fisheries, and illegal trapping to use the animals as bait for crab pots.