Get to know the five Penguin Cam species, all of which spend at least part of their lives in Antarctica.
At 2 feet in height, Adélie penguins are the smallest of the five Antarctic species. They are mostly black with a white belly. You can easily spot them in Penguin Cam by the white ring around their eye and by their unique bill. Their bill is mostly hidden by black feathers, which makes the exposed tip look like red lips. Adélie penguins also have a long tail.
Next to emperors, Adélies are the most southerly distributed of all penguin species. There are over 5 million of them in the Ross Sea region of Antarctica.
In Frozen Planet, male Adélie penguins come ashore in early spring to build their rocky nests on the few exposed areas found along the coast. The males will even steal rocks from one another's nests to make sure their nest is the best and biggest when the females arrive in late spring.
When the mating season begins, male Adélie penguins will salute the females with a display of beak-thrusting, neck-arching and fin flapping. The chosen males mate while the others continue to flap and arch in vain. In a month, the female lays her egg, then goes fishing while the male incubates the egg through summer.
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The tallest and heaviest of all penguins, the emperor penguin averages 4 feet in height and from 50 to 100 pounds, depending on time of year. They can be distinguished by their bright yellow ear patches. The similar-looking but smaller king penguins, which also appear in Penguin Cam, have golden-orange ear patches.
Emperor penguins were made famous in films like March of the Penguins and Happy Feet.
They are the only bird species that live their entire lives in Antarctica, which means braving the harshest winters on the planet. As other penguin species leave Antarctica in late autumn, emperor penguins arrive to mate and spend the winter.
After the females lay their single egg, they leave the breeding colony to spend the winter fishing off the coast. The males remain to tend to the egg, which they keep perched on their feet all winter. If the egg touches the ice for longer than a few seconds, the chick inside will freeze. This amazing behavior was documented for Frozen Planet.
Gentoo penguins can reach up to 2-½ or even 3 feet in height, which makes them the third largest penguin species after emperors and kings. You can easily distinguish them from the other Penguin Cam penguins by the wide white stripe that extends like a bonnet across the top of their head. Gentoo penguins also have a bright orange-red bill and a fairly long tail.
They are the fastest underwater swimming penguins, reaching speeds of 22 miles per hour. No bird is more at home in the violent Southern Ocean, which whips around the Antarctic continent unchecked by anything but the occasional iceberg.
Gentoo penguins are also good at body surfing, as depicted in one of the most memorable scenes from Frozen Planet. In this scene, a southern sea lion with a taste for penguin meat appears in the waves offshore, but the speedy gentoos remain just out of reach. Tiring of its ocean assault, the sea lion attempts to run down a penguin on the beach. These two champion swimmers are like fish out of water when on land, which results in an extremely awkward footrace.
Averaging over 3 feet in height, the king penguin is the second largest penguin species next to the 4-foot-tall emperor penguin. Its markings closely resemble the emperor's, but there are some differences. For example, the king penguin's ear patch is a golden-orange color, while the emperor's is yellow.
King penguins breed on the subantarctic islands at the northern reaches of Antarctica and South Georgia Island. A single colony can number up to 400,000 birds. In summer, the temperatures there can reach a "sizzling" 60°F. That's hot for a king penguin, and it's not unheard of for one of these heavily insulated birds to get heatstroke.
So they've developed ways to cope with the heat.
As seen in Frozen Planet, king penguins will stretch out in the sand so that their feet can cool in the breeze. The chicks with their warm, downy coats are in even greater danger of overheating. To stay cool, they take dips in icy streams or slide headfirst through muddy pools that serve as impromptu "penguin spas."
Nearly as small as the Adélie penguin, the macaroni penguin — averaging just over 2 feet in height — is one of the world's most distinctive-looking penguins. You can easily spot macaronis in Penguin Cam by their long, feathery yellow crest. In fact, the term "macaroni" refers to flamboyant and excessive ornamentation.
These highly social penguins have adapted a large repertoire of visual as well as vocal displays. You may see them engaging in bill-jousting, where two birds will lock bills and wrestle, each trying to unseat the other. They may also batter one another with their flippers, or peck and strike at their opponent's neck. A submissive macaroni penguin will move through the colony with its feathers flattened, flippers moved to the front of its body and its head and neck hunched.
The macaroni penguin is the only Penguin Cam species — and by virtue, the only Antarctic penguin — not depicted in Frozen Planet. So you'll just have to watch them here!