Penguins are a remarkable group of flightless birds. We tend to think of them as Antarctic birds, but they actually inhabit an extremely diverse range of habitats from subzero Antarctic coastline to the tropical Galapagos Islands. Research we published today in the Biology Letters gives us new insight into how this diverse group evolved.
There are now 18 recognised species of penguins. All live predominantly in the Southern Hemisphere (those Galapagos penguins being the exception), in a wide range of climates.
The habitats of modern penguins can be grouped into four climate zones. The Galapagos penguin (Spheniscus mendiculus) lives in a tropical habitat and two other species, the Peruvian penguin (S. humbolti) and the Black–footed (S. demersus) live in the subtropical regions.
Meanwhile Adélie, Chinstrap and Gentoo species (belonging to the genus Pygoscelis), the King and Emperor penguins (genus Aptenodytes) and Macaroni and Rockhopper penguins (both species of Eudyptes) are classic polar penguins, living in the Antarctic and sub-Antarctic.
The remaining eight species of penguins — the Fiordland, Snares, Erect-crested, Royal, Yellow-eyed, Magellanic, White-flippered and Little Blue penguin — live in temperate regions of the world.
Where penguins live can tell us something about how they are related. We can also look at fossils. Fossil penguins have been recovered from a range of latitudes in the Southern Hemisphere — from New Zealand to Peru.
Written By: Sankar Subramanian
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