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What Do Adélie Penguins Eat? A Look at Their Diet and Feeding Habits

Wondering what Adélie penguins eat and how they feed? On this page, we will answer these questions and more! We will uncover why penguins even eat stones, how efficient they are at hunting, and the astronomical amounts of food they consume daily. Keep reading to learn more about their feeding habits.

What Do Adélie Penguins Eat? – Their Favorite Foods

Adélie penguins are 100% carnivorous. They get all their food from the ocean. A major part of their diet is made of krill, a tiny shrimp-like creature, a crustacean. Adélie penguins complement their diet with a variety of fish, such as the Antarctic silverfish (Pleuragramma antarcticum) and the Antarctic lanternfish (Electrona antarctica), and also squids. Sometimes, they also eat amphipods, which is another type of crustacean.

They Also Eat Stones!

It sounds strange and surprising, but Adélie penguins do eat stones as well! And they are not the only ones: it is known that some bird species, including penguins, ingest small stones or pebbles. These “stomach stones” are called “gastroliths.”

These stones are believed to aid in digestion by helping to break down and grind food inside the bird’s gizzard, a muscular portion of the stomach. In the case of Adélie penguins, ingesting stones could potentially help them process the hard exoskeletons of their primary food source, krill, as well as the bones of the fish they consume. More on that later.

Additionally, these stones may provide some ballast, assisting penguins in diving and maintaining buoyancy control when foraging underwater.

Krill on a fingerSource: Wikimedia Commons
Krill on a finger

How Do Adélie Penguins Hunt and Get Their Food?

Adélie penguins are really skilled swimmers and hunters, adapted to foraging in the cold Antarctic waters. If you look at their streamlined bodies, strong wings or flippers, it is obvious they are made for swimming and diving – their most useful skills to capture their prey, primarily krill and fish.

When hunting, Adélie penguins propel themselves underwater using their flippers and steer with their feet and tail. They are very fast – they usually reach speeds of 6.5-8 km/h (4-5 mph), but can go up to 15 km/h (9.3 mph) if needed. They can dive down to depths of 180 m (590 ft), which is pretty impressive, although they usually catch their food closer to the surface.

Their sharp beaks are well-suited for grasping and holding onto their prey. Adélie penguins may also hunt cooperatively, working together to herd schools of fish or krill, making it easier to catch their food. After capturing their prey, they swallow it whole and head back to the surface to breathe and continue hunting if necessary.

While hunting, Adélie penguins must also be vigilant and avoid predators such as leopard seals and orcas, which are known to prey on them. Their agility in the water, combined with their keen vision and ability to quickly change direction, helps them evade these predators while foraging for food.

Adelie penguins running in the water

How Do Adélie Penguins Eat? A Look at Their Anatomy

Adélie penguins have specialized anatomy that enables them to effectively consume their prey. The most important parts of their anatomy involved in eating are their beaks, tongues, and gizzards.

Their beaks are sharp and strong, designed to grasp and hold onto their prey. The upper and lower parts of the beak have a hook-like structure, which, again, helps Adélie penguins firmly grasp slippery prey like fish and krill. Their beaks are also partially covered by long feathers that hide most of their reddish bills.

Inside the mouth, Adélie penguins have a unique tongue covered in backward-pointing spines. These spines help hold onto the prey and guide it down the throat while preventing it from escaping. Penguins typically swallow their prey whole, head-first, which helps minimize the chances of injury from fish fins or spines.

Once the food is swallowed, it enters the bird’s two-chambered stomach. The first chamber, called the proventriculus, secretes gastric acids and enzymes that begin the digestion process. The food then moves to the gizzard, which is a muscular part of the stomach that grinds and crushes the food – with the help of the small stones/pebbles called gastroliths that we talked about earlier.

It is also in the proventriculus (the first chamber) that they can store food that they can regurgitate to feed their chicks.

Adelie penguin feeding chick

How Much Do Adélie Penguins Eat?

An Adélie penguin eats up to 2 kg (4.5 lbs) of food per day. Want some more impressive numbers? If you consider a whole 5-million-member penguin colony, they will consume 8,000 to 9,000 TONNES of food PER DAY, which is astounding. It goes to show how productive cold ocean waters are.

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