June 3, 2011 • 6:23 am

This is a picture of penguins—a huge colony of king penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus) on South Georgia Island.  It’s one of eight wonderful photographs of the species taken by Andy Rouse that appeared in yesterday’s Guardian.

The brown parts of the colony are crèches: groups of young unmolted birds that gather together and are tended by a few adults while the parents go fishing. It always amazes me that every penguin can distinguish not only its own mate, but its own chick among the huddled masses.  Of course, evolution would, though kin selection, foster that ability: you don’t want to promulgate somebody else’s genes.

This could easily be captioned as a LOLpenguin:

King penguins are the world’s second largest penguin (after the emperor), weighing in at a hefty 20-30 pounds.  They also have an unusually long breeding season: between 14 and 16 months from egg to fledging, so they cannot breed annually.

There are two subspecies: A. patagonicus patagonicus, whose distribution is shown in pink on the map below, and A. patagonicus halli, whose distribution is in yellow.  Green areas are the breeding grounds: they don’t breed on the Antarctic mainland.

h/t: Matthew Cobb

20 thoughts on “Sphenisciformes

  1. Goddamnit I hate these things! Is the first one a sailboat? A Castle? I can’t see it!

    The last three are much easier, for some reason.

  2. Is it can be captions time nao?

    For the second pic (Souf Georgia bein’ a British territory and all): “Sorry, guvnor, u is not gettin in wiffout a tie.”

    Kevin #1: Don’t puffins taste oily? I always thought penguins would taste something like a puffin.

    And does the word “penguin” come from the Welsh “pen gwyn”, wot means “black head”? Prolly not, but always good for one of them ettymalogical arguments =)

    1. I once met an old guy—the father of a friend—who had actually been with Robert Scott on one of his Antarctic expeditions. They had to shoot and eat penguins since they were low on food, and this guy told me that penguins were the most disgusting flesh he’d ever tasted. I believe his description was that they tasted like chicken infused with fish oil.

      1. Ew. I’d still try penguin, though. Just to see for myself.

        Poor old Scott & co. Maybe if there had been penguins further inland they’s have managed to make it home. =(

    2. Bore da – Much as I’d like to see a Welsh etymology here isn’t it from pinguis – meaning fat? Or am I completely wrong? Someone will know

    3. I believe the name was applied first to the late Great Auk by Eoropeans encountering it in the north Atlantic and then used for the flightless birds in the southern hemisphere later in the course of discovery, exploration and explotation.

      Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about the etymology…http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Penguin#Etymology

  3. I’m a sedimentologist, and with my first glance at the top pic I said, “cool patterns in sand! Maybe heavy minerals!”


    OTOH, I’ve never seen a picture of penguin “sediment” before. 🙂

  4. That first picture – some of the penguins are obviously spelling out the name of allah in arabic script. It’s a miracle!

  5. Of course, evolution would, though kin selection, foster that ability: you don’t want to promulgate somebody else’s genes.

    I still find it very strange to insist on attributing parental care–which enhances only direct vertical reproduction–to ‘kin selection’.
    I accept that this conflation is implicit in the mathematics, but it still seems to me to elevate mathematical formality above conceptual clarity.

    1. Why? Even “direct vertical reproduction” in sexually reproducing species results in the offspring only sharing half each parent’s genes. The same mechanisms are in play whether it’s parent-child or sibling-sibling interactions; the only difference is the magnitude of the payout.

  6. And I just thought the first picture was a field or grass and flowers in Scotland antil I saw the face of Jesus in it.

    Seriously, how do penguins recognize each other? It’s incredible that they do.

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