You’ve heard of emperor penguins, you’ve probably heard of king penguins (though you may have thought they were the same thing), and you might even have heard of the humble rockhopper. But of the 17 to 19 species of penguin (depending on definitions), some will definitely have escaped your notice.
To mark World Penguin Awareness Day, we’ve scoured the world from the ice floes of Antarctica to the tropical climes of the equator, to round up the most peculiar species you’ve probably never heard of…
1. Little penguin
Native to Australia and New Zealand, these unbearably cute critters stand about the same height as a 30cm ruler. They spend their days at sea chasing fish and miniature squid, and their little bodies are capable of diving a colossal 72 metres, according to the Penguin Foundation.
Extremely vulnerable to predators – obviously – little penguins make easy meat for feral cats, lizards and even rats, and at-risk colonies require fearsome protection. One Australian community was guarded by volunteers with sniper rifles, while another is protected by two giant Maremma sheepdogs.
2. Erect-crested penguin
With an updo to rival David Beckham in his mohawk years, there are no prizes for guessing where this flawlessly fashionable penguin gets its name. Several penguins have yellow hair – consider the flowing locks of the rockhopper, or the slicked back mullet of the macaroni – but the erect-crested penguin is the most compellingly coiffed by far.
This rare bird breeds almost entirely on the remote Bounty and Antipodes Islands near New Zealand. During the summer months the air is filled with the penguins low-pitched, booming bray.
3. Galapagos penguin
Name any variety of animal, and it’s odds-on the Galapagos Islands will have a version of it. The only penguin found (just) in the Northern Hemisphere, Galapagos penguins are the rarest of all penguin species, with an estimated 1,200 mature individuals left in the wild.
Where emperors and chinstraps must protect their eggs from the polar winter, Galapagos penguins hide their eggs in rocky crevices to keep them from the warmth of the tropical sun. Preyed on by everything from short-eared owls to sharks, the Galapagos penguin’s life is not an easy one.
4. Yellow-eyed penguin
Perhaps the most ancient of all penguins, and the sole surviving member of its genus, this threatened species gets its name from the bright yellow stripe around its crown and the colour of its beady little eyes. Another New Zealand native – with a place on the five dollar note – we’re not sure if they look completely evil, or just jaundiced.
5. African penguin
Picture a South African beach: Pure white sands strewn with surfboards and sun umbrellas, squeezed between the azure waves of the South Atlantic and the lush green tinge of the mainland.
Now imagine it covered with penguins. Doesn’t really fit, does it?
Found all the way around the African cape, stretching north into the desert nation of Namibia, this subtropical species prefers sand to snow, and must contend with African predators like mongooses and caracals. A tolerant species that will allow tourists almost within touching distance, African penguins are nearly as endearing as they are bizarre.
6. Adélie penguin
Like black and white beanie babies with stick-on googly eyes, and a lolloping gait that’s graceless even by penguin standards, the Adélie trundles through life with no apparent knowledge of its surroundings.
Scott of the Antarctic came into regular contact with the penguins during his fateful final voyage, and surviving crew members wrote of their “fatuous conduct…devouring curiosity, and pig-headed disregard for their own safety.”