9 Fascinating Rockhopper Penguin Facts

rockhopper penguin facts

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Rockhopper penguins have the most punk-rock appearance out of all the 18 known penguin species.

With their blood-red eyes, crazy bright yellow feathers where you would normally find brows, and spiky black feathers on top of their heads these guys are exactly as feisty as they look.

Besides their peculiar looks and bold personalities, rockhopper penguins are also efficient hunters, loving partners, devoted parents, and much more!

Join me today as I bring you 9 fascinating rockhopper penguin facts that will change how you view these funny-looking sea birds.  

From fasting periods to size, predators, locomotion, and everything in between let’s dive right in to discover these 9 fascinating facts!

1. The Rockhopper Is The Smallest Of The Crested Penguins

“Crested penguins” is the name commonly assigned to the members of the genus Eudyptes.

This genus comprises 7 penguin species: erect-crested, Fiordland, macaroni, rockhopper, royal, and snares penguins. 

Standing at a maximum height of 46 cm / 18 in. and weighing 2.5 kg / 5.6 lbs. on average the rockhopper penguin is the smallest of the bunch.

rockhopper penguin facts
Photo by Mark Koch on Unsplash

For comparison, the largest of the crested penguins is the erect-crested which reaches a height of 50 cm / 20 in. and a weight of 4 kg / 9 lbs.

2. The Rockhopper Penguin Is Monogamous

While other penguin species are generally “seasonally monogamous” mating with a different partner each breeding season, the rockhopper penguin is completely monogamous which means a mated pair will only breed with each other year after year until one of them dies. 

However, bonded pairs will only come together for the breeding season, which is quite short lasting about 4 months between egg laying and offspring independence.

Once the chick (or chicks) can fend for themselves the parents each go their separate ways.

Males normally arrive on breeding grounds 6 days earlier than females and leave 6 days after the females have left.

Once the female penguins arrive at the nesting ground several hours are spent loudly vocalizing while locating their mates and couples tend to use the same nest site during several seasons.

So as you can see, while the rockhopper penguin is a believer of true love and really knows the meaning of “til death do us part” it also likes to be a strong, independent penguin that has its own space and therefore partners spend most of the year apart from each other. 

3. Rockhopper Penguins Are Very Aggressive

Rockhopper penguins may be small but they are very feisty and will aggressively snap at any animal, even those larger than them, getting close to their nest or invading their space in any way.

Nonetheless, they are a very social species and it’s unlikely you’ll see one by itself.

4. Rockhopper Penguins Have Confused Scientists

Depending on who you ask you will hear that there are one species of rockhopper penguin or 3. 

The main source of disagreement among the scientific community is the fact that there are 3 different breeding locations and while physically, and behaviorally, all rockhopper penguins are strikingly similar there have been 3 scientific names assigned.

5. Rockhopper Penguins Have A Particular Mode Of Locomotion

On land rockhopper penguins seem to favor hopping, and as their name suggests they do indeed hop from rock to rock.

This makes them particularly slow on land as they don’t recur to tobogganing (sliding on the ice while laying on their bellies) as often as other penguin species do.

While diving they travel at around 7 km / 4.3 miles per hour which gives them enough speed to propel themselves out of the water and land on their bellies on the beach when returning from a dive. 

6. Rockhopper Penguins Have Striking Colors

Rockhopper penguins have the characteristic countershading black and white pattern found on all penguin species. 

This coloration is wonderful for camouflaging as the black on its dorsal side blends with the sea floor if looked at from above while the white ventral side matches the sky if an animal was looking up from under them.

rockhopper penguin facts
Photo by a Bremner via Flickr

This is the perfect disguise when you want to hide from predators and prey. 

But besides this black and white pattern rockhopper penguins have striking colors and physical traits such as their bright red eyes, deep red beak, black spiky feathers on top of their heads, and tufts of distinctive long yellow feathers that extend from the sides of their beaks and over their eyes. 

7. Rockhopper Penguins Have A Built-In Insulation System

Rockhopper penguins live in harsh cold environments and take daily dives in even colder water.

Luckily for them, they have a great insulation system that consists of a significant layer of fat, followed by a layer of down feathers, and lastly a thick, tightly packed layer of waterproof feathers.

This last layer is what keeps the penguin dry and warm and it’s so dense that you can find around 12 feathers per square cm / per square 0.2 in.

8. Rockhopper Penguins Have Many Predators

These small marine birds have to be constantly looking out for possible threats as they have predators on land and underwater. 

While on land eggs and chicks are heavily hunted by birds such as brown skuas, giant fulmars, and kelp gulls.

rockhopper penguin
Image: Ian Glover via Flickr

When diving, rockhopper penguins must be on the lookout for blue sharks, killer whales, fur seals, and leopard seals.

9. Rockhopper Penguins Aren’t Picky Eaters

While these birds prefer to eat krill they will happily devour small crustaceans, fish, and squid.

In fact, their appetite is so voracious that if they come across a floating piece of plastic that somewhat resembles a fish they will innocently feed on it and face health declines down the line. 

Rockhopper penguins make daily diving trips to forage and they can reach depths of 100 m / 330 feet while looking for food. To give you an idea of how deep that is Big Ben is 96 m / 315 feet tall. 

These penguins go through an annual molt that lasts between 3 to 4 weeks in which they lose up to 40% of their body weight since they’re unable to go on foraging dives while replacing their feather coats