Episode 145 – Adelie Penguin: A Formal Feathered Friend

“…and today we’re talking about a formal feathered friend. But more on that later.”

Birds of a feather waddle together. And that’s never been truer than it is for the Adelie penguin. As the dapper flippers make their way across the Antarctic ice each year, it’s important for each one to stake their claim on what little land is available. But how can birds solve these gerrymandering disputes? With money of course! But having a crude currency is just one of the Adelie’s survival techniques here in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Description of the Adelie Penguin

  • Adelie Penguins sport the classic penguin look in their smart little black and white tuxedos.
  • They have white bellies, black backs displaying the countershading that’s totally in this season. 
  • Their black plumed heads end in a short beak, and their eyes appear as a white ring surrounding a large black pupil. 
  • The Adelie’s sleek appearance makes them look featherless, but they do actually have feathers. Their feathers are short and dense to insulate heat and create something like a wetsuit in the water. 

Measure Up

Welcome to the beloved Measure Up segment. The official listener’s favorite part of the show! The part of the show when we present the animal’s size and dimension in relatable terms through a quiz that’s fun for the whole family. It’s also the part of the show that’s introduced by you when you send in audio of yourself saying, singing, or chittering the words measure up into ldtaxonomy at gmail dot com. We don’t have a Measure Up intro this week. That means, we get to hear from an animal and Carlos has to guess what it is. 

  1. Chinstrap Penguin
  2. Emperor Penguin
  3. Adelie Penguin 
  4. A bumper boat that needs an oil change


  • 46 to 71 cm (18 to 28 in)
  • How many penguins go into the height of the tallest building in Antarctica?
  • Hint: The tallest building on the continent is actually two side-by-side identical buildings called Long Duration Balloon (LDB) Payload Preparation Buildings at McMurdo Station City.
  • 21 penguins. The buildings are 49 ft high.


  • 3.6 to 6.0 kg (7.9 to 13.2 lb)
  • How many Adelie penguins would an Antarctic fur seal have to eat its weight in penguin?
  • Hint: The antarctic fur seal can live all over the southern sees and most of them are distributed in subantarctic islands. 
  • 14.6 penguins. The Antarctic fur seal is 190 lbs.

Fast Facts About the Adelie Penguin

Emperor penguins live in Antarctica, and no penguins live at the north pole!

Emperor penguins are said to have the highest feather density of any bird, but several studies have shown that to be incorrect. Still, penguins have highly dense plumules, which are downy feathers. There is some debate as to the secret to a penguin’s cold weather feather success. Some say it comes from afterfeathers attached to contour feathers. But a 2015 study said it was larger due to these dense downy feathers. They also have a thick layer of fat under their skin for more insulation. 

These little guys are fairly quick on their feet despite their awkward waddle, but they do engage in the signature belly slide when they get the chance. In fact, they may travel more than 30 miles to reach the water. 

Like most penguins, they’re adept swimmers. They cruise at Michael Phelps swim speeds but they can reach as much as 9 mph when hunting or escaping predators. 

Adelie’s share parenting duties and they take turns sitting on the egg while the other one hunts. They like to eat a wide variety of seafood, including several types of krill, Antarctic silverfish, and glacial squid. Fossil records show that around 200 years ago, Adelie’s ate mostly fish but they’ve altered course to eat mostly krill. They believe this may be because of the decline of their competition like baleen whales and Antarctic fur seals. 

Speaking of seals, Adelies are preyed upon by fur seals along with orcas and giant petrels. Other seabirds like Kelp Gulls!

Adelie Penguin Major Fact: Chilling Two Birds With One Stone

Humans are not unique in their obsession with precious stones – rocks are coveted as tools by chimpanzees. But for chimps, the value of rocks is intrinsic – meaning that they are valuable because they are useful in and of themselves. 

For humans, precious stones are only valuable because we assigned value to them. The same is true for Adelie penguins. However, rocks have both intrinsic and extrinsic value for these toddlepuffs.

Adelie penguins set up their nests on rocky portions of the Antarctic coastline, which changes throughout the year. 

During the winter, the “landmass” of Antarctica doubles in size as the water around the continent freezes. As soon as spring comes and the ice starts receding, the males will return from the ocean and walk across the ice to the real solid-ground coastline.

There, they’ll pick a part of exposed ground that isn’t covered in snow to start building their nests.

But finding a spot in Antarctica that isn’t covered in snow is obviously tough, especially when there are a few hundred thousand of you on one rocky patch. Once a male finds a good spot, he starts looking for rocks to build a nest that is raised above the ground to make sure that the eggs never have to rest on the ice and snow.

So rocks serve a functional or intrinsic purpose, but that’s not where the rocky relationship ends.

Currency Above the Currents

Because the size and construction of the rock nests play a role in sexual selection once the females arrive, the rocks are actually a form of rudimentary currency – money for penguins!

They forage and collect rocks for their nests, and the rocks are rare, so females choose males that have the best nests since her chicks will have the best chance of survival on a good nest.

So the males place extra value on the stones outside of their use. They’ll often hoard more rocks than they need and even steal rocks from each other when they’re not looking.

Females will also use rocks in exchange for secret dalliances with other males.

Possibly to secure a mate if the first one dies.

Ending: So pick a spot, make your nest, and remember that the love of rocks is the root of all kinds of evil like the Adelie Penguin here in LDT.


Thank you to Casy for creating our theme song. To hear more of Casy’s music search Casy Michelle on Youtube

Thank you to Brian for creating the episode art. See more of Brian’s art at xNamaru on Instagram or Twitter.