The Macaroni penguin (Eudyptes chrysolophus) is a species of penguin found from the Subantarctic to the Antarctic Peninsula. It is one of the only six species from the genus of penguins called Eudyptes, also known as crested penguins. These penguins bear distinctive crests on their heads which they are known for. The Macaroni penguin is also closely related to the Royal penguin, and some scientists consider the two to be a single species.
In this article, we’ll briefly discuss the physical characteristics, diet, habitat, and conservation status of these magnificent creatures. We will also bring you some mind-boggling facts about this unique species of penguin. Let’s dive in…
Physical Attributes and Appearance
The Macaroni penguin bears a distinctive yellow crest on its head, and its face and upper parts are black and sharply delineated from the white underparts. Its chin and throat are black in color. On average, adults weigh 12 lbs and are 70 cm in length. The male and female are similar in appearance but the male is slightly larger and stronger with a relatively larger bill. Like other crested penguins, this penguin has a yellow crest, red bill, and small deep red eyes.
It is also the largest species of penguin among the genus of crested penguins. Like all penguins, it is flightless with a streamlined body. The wings have been stiffened and flattened into flippers for a marine lifestyle. Their feet are webbed and short which helps them swim and dive as deep as 100 meters in the ocean, while the sturdy legs of the animal are pink in color.
Unlike adults, juvenile penguins have grey throats and chins. In addition, the crest on their head is shorter than that of adult individuals. Chicks have dark grey plumage, grey eyes, brownish-black beaks, and lack a head crest.
The Macaroni penguin is a carnivore and mainly feeds on a variety of crustaceans, squid, and fish; the proportions of each vary with locality and season. Krill, particularly Antarctic krill, account for over 90% of food during the breeding season. Cephalopods and small fish such as the marbled rockcod, painted notie, and lanternfish become more important during chick-rearing. Like other penguin species, the macaroni penguin sometimes deliberately swallows small stones. These aid in providing ballast for deep-sea diving and help grind food, especially the exoskeletons of crustaceans which make up a significant part of its diet.
These seabirds forage for food on a daily basis when they have chicks to feed. Overnight trips are also sometimes made, especially as the chicks grow older. A 2008 study that used surgically implanted data loggers to track the movement of the birds showed the foraging trips become longer once the chick-rearing period is over. Macaroni penguins are known to be the largest single consumer of marine resources among all of the seabirds, with an estimated take of 9.2 million tonnes of krill a year. For reference, an average car weighs 2 tonnes so you can imagine how much krill that would be!
Macaroni penguins range from the Subantarctic to the Antarctic Peninsula, with at least 216 breeding colonies at 50 sides having been recorded.
In South America, macaroni penguins are found in Southern Chile, the Falkland Islands, South Georgia, the South Sandwich Islands, and the South Orkney Islands. They also occupy much of Antarctica and the Antarctic Peninsula, including the northern South Shetland Islands, Bouvet Island, Prince Edward and Marion islands, the Crozet Islands, the Kerguelen Islands, and the Heard and McDonald Islands.
These penguins inhabit rocky and water-bound terrains, living on cliffs and rocks. They also spend part of their time in the ocean. They have webbed feet that help them swim as well as a tail that serves as a rudder, steering them in the direction they want to go. When macaroni penguins are on land, they have to navigate rocky terrain, sandy areas, and cliffs. Their webbed feet give them the ability to hop or walk over slippery rocks and maintain balance. They can waddle-walk like other penguin species as well as hop to make movements.
Besides being widely distributed across Antarctica, the Subantarctic, and the Antarctic Peninsula, they also make long-distance foraging trips. These trips take them as far as southern Brazil, Tristan Da Cunha, South Africa, and the offshore islands of Australia and New Zealand.
Habits and Lifestyle
These penguins are highly social animals and their groups are called colonies, which generally consist of breeding pairs and contain up to 3 million individuals. When on land, these birds are extremely noisy, making harsh braying sounds but tend to bark when at sea. They communicate with each other through ritual behavior, accompanying their calls by moving, waving their heads and flippers, bowing, and preening. Being both diurnal and crepuscular animals, these birds are active throughout the day. They forage by day, often remaining underwater from dawn to dusk. Looking for feeding areas, Macaroni penguins can travel up to 400 km along the polar front.
Macaroni penguins also have a monogamous mating system, forming lifelong pairs. During the breeding season, they gather into large colonies and the female lays no more than two eggs. The male remains with the chick for the first 3-4 weeks after hatching, caring for the hatchling. The female forages to provide them both with food. By the age of 10 weeks, the chick attains its adult plumage and can go out to sea.
According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the conservation status of Macaroni penguins is vulnerable. The overall population of this species is currently decreasing due to water pollution and a decrease in its food source. One of the major threats it faces is overfishing, which considerably reduces the populations of krill and other small invertebrates that are their main source of food. At their breeding grounds, the birds are exposed to oil pollution, fishing, and global warming. The breeding population of these penguins on Marion Island has sharply reduced due to disease outbreaks. There is currently protection and monitoring in place to help the Macaroni penguins, but scientists and environmentalists believe that more could be done.