The Little Penguin (Eudyptula minor) is the smallest species of penguin. The penguin, which is about 43 cm (16 in) tall, is found on the coastlines of southern Australia and New Zealand, with possible records from Chile.
Apart from Little Penguins, they have several common names. In Australia, they are also referred to as Fairy Penguins because of their tiny size. In New Zealand, they are also called Little Blue Penguins, or just Blue Penguins, owing to their indigo-blue plumage, and they are called Koror? in M?ori.
The Little Penguin was first described by German naturalist Johann Reinhold Forster in 1781. There are several subspecies but a precise classification of these is still a matter of dispute. The White-flippered Penguin is sometimes considered a subspecies, sometimes a distinct species, and sometimes a morph. As the Australian and western South Island Little Penguins seem to be a distinct species to which the specific name minor would apply, the White-flippered birds indeed belong to a distinct species, although not exactly as originally assumed.
Mitochondrial and nuclear DNA evidence suggests the split between Eudyptula and Spheniscus occurred around 25 million years ago, with the ancestors of the White-flippered and Little Penguins diverging about 2.7 million years ago.
The Little Penguin typically grows to 41 cm (16 in) tall and weighs about one kilogram (2.2 pounds). The male is a little larger than the female, although their plumage is similar. The head and upperparts are indigo in colour, with slate-grey ear coverts fading to white underneath, from the chin to the belly. The flippers are indigo above and white underneath. The dark grey-black bill is 3-4 cm long, the irises pale silvery- or bluish-grey or hazel, and the feet whitish above with black soles and webbing. An immature individual will have a shorter bill and paler upperparts.
Like most seabirds, they have a long lifespan. The average for the species is 6.5 years, but flipper ringing experiments have recorded individuals that have lived for over 20 years.
Chick in nest burrow
Little penguins at the Melbourne Zoo
Feeding time at Melbourne Zoo
Distribution and habitat
See also: List of Little Penguin colonies
The Little Penguin breeds along the entire coastline of New Zealand, the Chatham Islands, Tasmania, and southern Australia.
Little penguins have also been reported from Chile (where they are known as Pingüino pequeño or Pingüino azul) (Isla Chañaral 1996, Playa de Santo Domingo, San Antonio, 16 March 1997) but it is unclear whether these birds were vagrants. Nevertheless it has been suggested that there might be a yet undiscovered breeding population in the Chilean portion of Patagonia. Recently, the first record of a living Little Penguin has been reported from Namibia (Ichaboe Island, April 2005).
These birds feed by hunting fish, squid and other small sea animals, for which they travel and dive quite extensively. They are generally inshore feeders. The use of dataloggers has provided information of the diving behaviour of Little Penguins. 50% of their dives are go no deeper than 2 m and the mean diving time is 21 seconds.
A wild Little Penguin returning to its burrow to feed its chicks on Bruny Island
Little Penguins begin breeding at the age of three or four. They are monogamous and remain faithful to their partner over successive years, though they will find another mate if their current one dies. They also exhibit site fidelity to their nesting colonies and nesting sites over successive years.
Little Penguins live year-round in large colonies, with each individual breeding pair forming a burrow in which to raise their chicks (of which two are born at a time). Little Penguins typically return to their colonies to feed their chicks at dusk; the birds will tend to come ashore in small groups to provide some defense against predators which might pick off individuals one by one. In Australia, the strongest colonies are on cat-free and fox-free islands.
Relationship with humans
At Phillip Island, southeast of Melbourne, a viewing area has been set up at the Phillip Island Nature Park to allow tourists to view the nightly "penguin parade". Lights and concrete stands have been erected to allow visitors to see but not photograph the birds interacting in their colony, who are not bothered by their spectators. The "parade",which stands as a very popular attraction, brings half a million visitors a year. Visitors to Kangaroo Island, South Australia, have the nightly opportunity to commune with penguins at the Kangaroo Island Marine Centre in Kingscote and at the Penneshaw Penguin Centre.
The Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony is the New Zealand equivalent to Phillip Island's penguin parade.
Linus Torvalds, the original creator of Linux (a popular operating system kernel), was once bitten by a Little Penguin while on holiday in Australia. Reportedly, this encounter encouraged Torvalds to select Tux as the official Linux mascot.
Penny the Little Penguin was the mascot for the 2007 FINA World Swimming Championships held in Melbourne, Victoria.
Little Penguins at Sea World, Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia (photo 2005)
There is a colony of Little Penguins at Sea World, on the Gold Coast, in Queensland, Australia. In early March, 2007, 25 of the 37 penguins died from an unknown toxin following a change of gravel in their enclosure. It is still not known what caused the deaths of the Little Penguins, and it was decided not to return the 12 surviving penguins to the same enclosure in which the penguins became ill.
A new enclosure for the Little Penguin colony was opened at Sea World in 2008.
Little Penguins in the wild are sometimes preyed upon by New Zealand fur seals. A study done by researchers from the South Australian Research and Development Institute found that roughly 40 percent of seal droppings in South Australia's Granite Island area contained Little Penguin remains.
Little Penguins on Middle Island in Warrnambool, Victoria were subject to heavy predation by foxes, which could reach the island at low tide by a tidal sand bridge. The deployment of Maremma sheepdogs to protect the penguin colony has deterred the foxes and enabled the penguin population to rebound.
Little Penguin climbing to its nest on the St Kilda breakwater
Little Penguins in the wild calling, Dunedin, New Zealand
Problems listening to this file? See media help.