8 Interesting Gentoo Penguin Facts

gentoo penguin facts

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Penguins are arguably some of the most charismatic animals out there.

Their wobbly walk and black and white pattern resembling a tuxedo has made them so popular that these sea birds have become a staple character in entertainment, having stellar and supporting roles in film and tv.

What most people fail to realize is that there are 18 different penguin species and each one of them has exceptional and unique characteristics!

Today we will discover 8 interesting gentoo penguin facts that will give you some insight into the lives of these Antarctic sea birds.

Read on to discover more about the Gentoo penguin’s unique coloration, elaborate mating displays, incredible swimming abilities, and more!

1. Gentoo Penguins Are The Fastest Penguins!

These birds would beat any of the other 17 penguin species in a swimming competition as they’re known to reach an underwater swimming speed of 36 km / 22 miles per hour!

This feat can be accomplished thanks to their streamlined hydrodynamic bodies and sturdy paddle-like flippers.

This quality plays an important role in their survival as it helps them escape predators such as leopard seals, Weddel seals, fur seals, and southern sea lions.

Of course, their speed also comes in handy when chasing prey species.

Gentoo penguins are carnivorous and opportunistic so their diet varies throughout the year as it adapts to the migration of prey species and general availability.

Their diet is comprised of krill, fish, crustaceans, shrimp, and cephalopods.

2. Gentoo Penguins Are Very Romantic

Gentoo penguins are seasonally monogamous, which means that a bonded pair will stay together for at least the length of the breeding season.

However, most pairs mate for life and there is a “divorce” rate among gentoo penguin colonies of less than 20%.

Gentoo penguins
Image: David Stanley via Flickr

Bonded pairs will work together to build a complex nest out of pebbles, sometimes adding in some twigs, feathers, and vegetation.

Gentoo penguins have become famous for gifting each other pebbles that they will carry around. 

These generous pebble gifts are meant to show the other bird that the giver is interested in forming a breeding pair.

Both sexes are completely invested in incubating the eggs and rearing the chicks. Gentoo penguins normally have 2 chicks per breeding season. 

3. Gentoo Penguins Have Unique Coloration

Gentoo penguins stand out among their closest relatives (the adélies and chinstrap penguins) thanks to their bright orange bills and feet.

These sea birds also have a characteristic white band that extends from the bottom of one eye to the other going over the top of their heads.

The bright orange color on their bills occurs because an immense part of their diet is comprised of krill which is full of carotenoids that are absorbed by the gentoo penguin.

4. Gentoo Penguins Are Quite Large

The gentoo penguin is the third largest penguin species, after the king and emperor penguins.

It reaches a height of 76 cm / 30 in. and an average weight of 6.4 kg / 14 lbs. However, some larger individuals can easily reach a height of 95 cm / 37 in. and weigh around 8.5 kg / 19 lbs.

This makes gentoo penguins the largest species among their closest relatives (the adélies and chinstrap penguins).

5. Gentoo Penguins Aren’t Big Fans Of Ice

Despite living in the extremely cold weather of the sub-Antarctic peninsula and neighboring islands gentoo penguins tend to avoid snow and ice and prefer to nest and form colonies in ice-free areas such as flat, rocky beaches, and cliffs. 

gentoo penguin and chicks

Gentoo penguins don’t migrate and spend all year in their breeding and feeding grounds only moving to a different (ice-free) spot when ice caps form during the winter months. 

6. Gentoo Penguins Are Really Good Divers

Gentoo penguins regularly dive to depths of around 200 m / 655 feet.

This is about 10 times deeper than the recommended maximum depth for an experienced human free-diver!

These marine birds can remain underwater for around 7 minutes while searching for food. 

These sea birds can reach such impressive depths by reducing their heart rate during deep dives from their average of 80 – 100 beats per minute (bpm) to as little as 20 bpm.

Lower heart rates allow greater conservation of oxygen resulting in longer dives. 

This adaptation is especially important for gentoo penguins as an important food source for this species is benthic sea animals.

These are creatures that rest at the bottom of the seafloor, also called benthos, which are mostly invertebrates and some species of fish.

An adult gentoo penguin can make as many as 450 dives per day, spending a large percentage of its day underwater. 

7. Gentoos Have The Longest Tail Of Any Penguin Species

Gentoo penguins are part of the “brush-tailed” penguins and these birds possess the longest tails out of all the 3 species in this group. 

The prominent tail feathers of gentoo penguins add to their iconic waddle on land as it sweeps across the ground behind them rhythmically moving from side to side.

Each gentoo penguin has between 14 – 18 tail feathers each measuring around 15 cm / 5.9 in.

Gentoo penguins need to make sure their long tail feathers are waterproof and they do this by using their bills to cover them in oil produced by the uropygial gland located at the base of their tails. 

8. Gentoo Penguins Go Through An Anual Molt

Remember penguins are birds and as such, they must grow new feathers to replace old, worn ones.

However, the molting period of the gentoo penguin is often called a “catastrophic molt” because, unlike other bird species, they molt ALL of their feathers at once instead of a few at a time.

As you can imagine the process of growing new plumage is very energy-consuming and on top of it, gentoo penguins must fast during their annual molt as without their insulating, waterproof feathers they are unable to dive and look for food. 

gentoo penguin
Image: Don Faulkner via Flickr

Before this process begins penguins go through a pre-molt phase that lasts for about 55 days where they gorge on food, around 3 times their normal intake, to make sure they have enough energy and fat reserves to survive the actual molting period which lasts 25 days. 

During molting gentoo penguins will normally move away from their regular nesting sites and will lose around 200 gr / 7 oz. per day.