10 Incredible Adelie Penguin Facts

Written by Patrick Sather
Updated: November 6, 2022
© Christopher Michel / Flickr / Original
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Adelie penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae) belong to the penguin family Spheniscidae. They also go by the name brush-tailed penguins due to the long, still feathers on their tails that often sweep the ground behind them as they walk. Adelie penguins are boisterous, curious birds that thrive in one of the coldest places on earth. Here is a list of 10 Adelie penguin facts that uncover what makes these birds so special. 

10. Adelie Penguins Get Their Name From the Wife of a French Explorer

Adelie penguins are named after the wife of the discoverer.

©lin padgham / Flickr

We will go back to the beginning for the first entry on our list of Adelie penguin facts. It’s an unspoken rule that the person who first describes an animal gets to name it. Sometimes, scientists and explorers choose to name an animal after a particular physical feature or behavior. Other times, they prefer to name the animal after themselves or a particular loved one. 

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The Adelie penguin gets its name from Adelie Land, a claimed territory of France that stretches from the Southern Ocean coastline of Antarctica to the South Pole. Meanwhile, Adelie Land is named after Adele Dumont d’Urville. Adele was the wife of Jules Dumont d’Urville, a French explorer who discovered the first Adelie penguin in 1840. 

9. Adelie Penguins Are Mid-Sized Penguins But Smaller Than Most Antarctic Penguins

Adelie penguins colony on the iceberg Antarctica
Adelie penguins are smaller compared to other penguins in Antarctica.


When most people think of penguins, they imagine large emperor penguins. However, the truth is that most penguins are noticeably smaller than their larger and more recognizable cousins. Over half of all penguins measure around 27 inches tall or less, with the smallest species being the little blue or fairy penguin, which stands only 16 inches tall.  

Generally, Adelie penguins measure between 16 and 30 inches tall and weigh between 7 and 13 pounds. While this makes them larger than most other penguin species, they measure smaller than other recognizable penguins in Antarctica. Aside from emperor penguins, they are also dwarfed by king, Gentoo, Magellanic, and chinstrap penguins.

8. The Dietary Habits of Adelie Penguins Have Changed Over the Years

Adelie penguins prey on many types of sea creatures, including krill.

Adelie penguins eat different foods depending on their geographic location and the season. They are carnivores and get their food almost exclusively from the sea, as they aren’t well adapted to hunting on land. Some foods that they commonly eat include crustaceans, fish, and squid. They will also prey on jellyfish, particularly specimens with prominent gonads, which contain elevated levels of carbon and protein that the penguins crave. 

That said, krill comprise the largest part of Adelie penguins’ diet. They feed on numerous krill species, including Antarctic krill, ice krill, and sea grill. Records indicate the diet of Adelie penguins has changed significantly over the past 200 years. In the past, Adelie penguins mostly subsisted on fish. They began to eat more krill due to the rise in the number of krill brought about by a reduction in the number of sperm whales due to the whaling industry.

7. Adelie Penguins Are Excellent Swimmers

Happiest Animals: Penguin
Adelie penguins are very good swimmers.


Next up on our list of Adelie penguin facts is one of the more well-known bits of knowledge about penguins. As you probably already know, penguins are flightless birds that struggle to move on land. At most, they can reach a top speed of around 1.5 miles per hour when waddling.

However, an Adelie penguin is most at home not on land but in the water. They frequently swim at speeds around 5 miles per hour but can move between 25 and 30 miles per hour for short bursts, particularly when trying to escape predators. Adelie penguins can leap nearly 10 feet out of the water and often travel hundreds of miles to find food. They often hold their breath underwater for up to 3 minutes and as much as 6 minutes and dive up to depths of 170 meters. 

6. Adelie Penguins Monitor Their Salt Intake

The frozen waters of Antarctica offer little in the way of fresh water. Aside from the ice they stand on, Adelie penguins have almost no fresh water for them to drink. As a result, they’ve had to evolve unique adaptations to their environment to survive. One of their unique behaviors – and one of the most incredible Adelie penguins facts – concerns their ability to monitor their salt intake. 

Due to the high salt level in the water around them and their food, Adelie penguins eat a heavy salt diet. To avoid taking in too much salt, they’ve learned to target krill that contain relatively lower amounts of salt. Additionally, adult Adelie penguins adjust the amount of concentrated salt they feed their young via regurgitation. They accomplish this by removing sodium and potassium ions from partly-digested food in their stomachs.  

5. Some Adelie Penguins Migrate Extremely Long Distances

Adelie penguins trek extremely long distances.

©Stan Shebs / Creative Commons

Migration is common in many birds, with some species traveling exceptionally long distances to reach their breeding or winter grounds. While it may seem that penguins tend to remain in one location, the truth is that penguins also make seasonal migrations. Most people know about the incredible migration made by emperor penguins, but Adelie penguins are also no slouches. 

Each year, Adelie penguins follow the sun as they move between their breeding colonies and winter feeding ground. They follow the growing ice of Antarctica during the winter months and the receding ice during the summer months. In total, this annual migration causes them to trek incredible distances. On average, Adelie penguins migrate nearly 8,100 miles per year, with some populations traveling nearly 10,900 miles. 

4. Male Adelie Penguins Construct Nests Made of Rocks

Adelie penguins make their homes in one of the most inhospitable places imaginable. At first glance, the rocky and ice-covered continent of Antarctica seems like one of the least likely places in the world to support life. Yet, Adelie penguins have found ways to survive and breed and raise their vulnerable young. 

Despite what you may think, male penguins are the ones that take a lead role in preparing the nesting site. Male Adelie penguins collect small rocks with their mouths or roll the rocks to predetermined sites. They may even steal rocks from a nearby penguin’s nest if they can’t find a suitable rock. Moreover, they will specifically choose spots that are less likely to accumulate snow drifts based on the angle of the wind or sunlight.  

3. Adelie Penguins Can be Quite Fierce

Adelie penguins may look cool but can be fierce in the face of danger.

©Christopher Michel / Flickr

People tend to view penguins as cute, cuddly creatures. We typically see them as clumsy or inept, like children who can barely care for themselves. In reality, penguins are much more capable than they appear.

Out in the wild, Adelie penguins must contend with all sorts of different threats. Several predators target Adelie penguins, including seals and seabirds such as giant petrels. However, even when facing down larger predators, Adelie penguins aren’t ones to back down from a fight. They are naturally bold and will readily fight with animals much bigger than themselves by slapping with their flippers and making themselves look larger than they actually are. 

2. Adelie Penguins Are the Most Widespread of All Penguins

Adelie Penguins jump from iceberg in Antarcdtica
Adelie penguins are among the most widespread penguin species.


Depending on who you ask, there are either 17 or 18 recognized penguin species. They all live in the southern hemisphere, from Peru and Chile to Australia and New Zealand. That said, when most people think of penguins, they think of Antarctica. However, only 8 penguin species actually live in Antarctica and its surrounding islands, and only 5 live on the continent itself. These species include emperor, chinstrap, macaroni, Gentoo, and Adelie penguins. 

Of the penguins found on the Antarctic continent, Adelies and emperors are the only species that live solely on the continent and its surrounding islands. In addition to ranking among the most southern-dwelling penguins, Adelie penguins are also among the most widespread. Their range extends throughout thousands of square miles in the Antarctic sea, and they breed along the entire periphery of the continent. 

1. The IUCN Lists The Adelie Penguin as a Species of Least Concern

The last entry on our list of Adelie penguin facts is also one of the most reassuring. Many species currently face numerous threats to their sustainability, and penguins are no different. Climate change and pollution remain two of the most persistent issues threatening penguins, and several species are in serious decline or in danger of disappearing. However, at least the Adelie penguin appears to be doing well. Currently, researchers estimate that there are nearly 2.5 million breeding pairs throughout their range, or over 10 million individual penguins. As a result, the IUCN lists Adelie penguins as a species of Least Concern. 

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A pair of Adelie Penguins.
© Christopher Michel / Flickr / Original

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