Explore by Animal


To the untrained human eye, all penguins are cut from the same cloth black backs to protect them from the predators above, and white bellies to hide them from their prey below. But take a closer look.

In the Abbott Oceanarium, you’ll find two very different penguin species — rockhopper and Magellanic. Here’s how to tell them apart.

Among the smallest of penguins at roughly 15 inches high and 5 pounds, rockhoppers (Eudyptes chrysocome) are the eccentric ones. Their eyes glow red. Eyebrows as bright as egg yolks swoosh upward into long yellow plumes. And they are the only penguins that enter the water feet first, then burst back out and grab onto any perch they can with their beak, flippers, or feet. Try that from a swimming pool! Then again, stick to the ladders.
Rockhoppers, which live in the South Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans, are named for their unusual means of self-propulsion. The steep, rocky terrain on which they breed makes it necessary to hop from one point to the next. The birds assemble in small but raucous nesting colonies, with adults braying and tussling over territory, mates and nesting materials. Rockhoppers refurbish the same nest — a ring of smooth stones — every year, with no qualms about stealing nicer-looking stones from a neighboring nest. Though they lay two eggs, rockhopper pairs generally raise only one chick, preferentially feeding the offspring most likely to survive.

A dozen rockhoppers, many of them hatched at Shedd, live in Polar Play Zone, enjoying the new temperate-climate habitat.

The boldly banded Magellanic penguins live along the coast of southern South America, fishing the rich waters where the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans intermingle at the Straits of Magellan. Both the birds and the water passage were named for the Portuguese explorer who was the first European to discover them. The poor penguins were described by Magellan’s hungry crew as black geese that had to be skinned rather than plucked before being cooked.

At more than 2 feet tall, Magellanics (Spheniscus magellanicus) are the largest of the “temperate-weather” penguins — those that don’t live in the southern polar zone — and their range overlaps with that of the rockhoppers. Magellanics are superb long-distance swimmers, and with their powerful paddlelike wings, they can zoom through the water at 15 miles per hour. They often form large hunting parties in search of cuttlefish, sardines, squid, krill and other small seafood. Unlike the boisterous rockhoppers, though, they are shy on land and withdraw to burrows under rocks or shrubs to nest. Each year when the nesting colony reassembles, each male reclaims his burrow, then vocalizes to reconnect with his long-term mate. Magellanic pairs raise both chicks, guarding them from aerial predators such as gulls and petrels.

New! Adopt-an-Animal program

Contribute to Shedd's mission in a new way by symbolically adopting a penguin, Pacific white-sided dolphin or beluga whale.

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