Jean Pennycook penguinscience.com Adelie Penguin Adaptations
The ancestors of Adélie and Emperor penguins lived in areas of temperate climate (like California is now). When Adelie (and Emperor) Penguins adapted to the harsh conditions of the Antarctic they were able to live where there were far fewer predators and less competition for food from other birds than there was in warmer environments. However, the harsh environment requires all their energy just to survive. How do they do it?
Wings Penguin wings might remind you more of a dolphin’s flipper and yet dolphins are mammals and penguins are birds. Dolphins use their tail, but penguins use their wings (flippers) to propel themselves through the water using little energy. It has been said that penguins fly through the water because the movement of their wings is similar to the wing movements of birds flying in the air. However, unlike air-flying birds, penguins gain power on both the up stroke and down stroke of their wings when they are swimming. Being powerful swimmers is one of the adaptation for this environment because the only food available is in the ocean. There are no land organisms in Antarctica for penguins to eat.
Penguin bones in the wing are flat, solid and very strong. Here you can see the wrist and finger bones. Wing bones in birds that fly are round and hollow. This adaptation means their flipper will be flat for better movement through the water and strong for powerful strokes.
Penguin Body Form The penguin body shape has been described as the most hydrodynamic* form possible. Scientist have used the penguin form to design underwater vehicles, torpedoes and submarines. For penguins such a shape allows them to swim fast if they need to and over long distances using the least amount of energy. All of the food for these birds is in the ocean. Being a powerful swimmer is an important adaptation for these birds.
Penguins do not paddle along the surface like a duck and unlike a duck, penguin feet are used only to steer. In the picture below you can see the motion of the penguin as it launches from the water to take a breath of air.
Click on the image to see the video of penguins swimming
Feet Penguin feet are strong with long nails for climbing over ice and rock. Many people think they have short legs but as you can see from the skeleton their legs are long and strong.
Click the picture to see Adelie Penguins walking on the ice
Another form of movement along the ice is tobogganing. Here they slide on their bellies and push with their feet and legs. Click the picture to watch the video
Feathers Adelie penguin feathers appear black. But they actually have small blue tips. Adelie penguin coloration helps them survive. The black color of their backs absorb the sun’s energy when they are on the ice and when they are in the water the white bellies make them hard to see by predators and prey below them.
The feathers have a hard shell that overlays other feathers to keep the penguin dry in the water. At the base of the feather is a tuff of down that hold air against their bodies to keep them warm. Underneath the skin penguins have a insulating layer of fat to keep them warm not only in the water, but also when they are on the ice.
The only place not covered with feathers on the Adelie Penguin is the brood patch. Just big enough for 2 eggs this is where the eggs incubate against the warm body of the penguin.
Mouth, Beaks Adelie penguin beaks and mouth are highly adapted to catching their prey krill, small fish and squid. Their beaks are short and strong and their tongues have soft projections on them to keep the prey from getting away. Notice also the small hook at the end of the beak to help catch and hold the prey while the penguin is swimming.
As you can see Adelie Penguins are suited for the harsh environment they live in. They cannot fly but they have adapted special features that allow them to not only survive, but thrive in the coldest place on Earth. To learn more about Adelie Penguins go to
Other Powerpoint presentations for you classroom: Introduction to the Polar regions, Why is Antarctica so cold? Introduction to Adelie Penguins, Adelie Penguins march into the classroom Penguin Adaptations, This is a harsh continent Adelie Penguin Behavior, Good manners are always in style Penguin Predation and Competition, Life is tough for an Adelie Penguin Adelie Penguins Cope with Global Climate Change Did You Know, How researchers know what they know Penguin Quandaries, Can you answer these mysteries Fun pictures about Adelie Penguin Go to The education page.