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Southern Rockhopper Penguin

Related subjects: Birds

Background Information

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Southern Rockhopper Penguin
Adult Eudyptes chrysocome chrysocome in the New Island (Falklands Islands) rookery
Conservation status

Vulnerable ( IUCN 3.1)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Sphenisciformes
Family: Spheniscidae
Genus: Eudyptes
Species: E. chrysocome
Binomial name
Eudyptes chrysocome
( Forster, 1781)

Aptenodytes chrysocome Forster, 1781
Aptenodytes crestata J.F. Miller, 1784
Eudyptes crestatus (J.F. Miller, 1784)

The Southern Rockhopper Penguin, Eudyptes chrysocome, is a species of penguin. It occurs in subantarctic waters of the western Pacific and Indian Oceans, as well as around the southern coasts of South America.


This is the smallest yellow-crested, black-and-white penguin, reaching a length of 55 cm (22 in) and having an average weight of 3.35 kg (7.4 lbs). It has slate-grey upperparts and a straight, bright yellow eyebrow ending in long yellowish plumes projecting sideways behind a red eye.

Taxonomy and systematics

Eudyptes chrysocome chrysocome on Saunders Island, Falkland Islands hopping over a crack.

Their common name refers to the fact that unlike many other penguins which negotiate obstacles by sliding on their bellies or by awkward climbing using their flipper-like wings as aid, Rockhoppers will try to jump over boulders and across cracks.

This behaviour is by no means unique to this species however - at least the other "crested" penguins of the genus Eudyptes hop around rocks too. But the Rockhopper's congeners occur on remote islands in the New Zealand region, whereas the rockhopper penguins are found in places that were visited by explorers and whalers since the Early Modern era. Hence, it is this particular species in which this behaviour was first noted.


Two subspecies are generally recognized today:

  • American Southern Rockhopper Penguin, Eudyptes chrysocome chrysocome - breeds around the southern tip of South America
  • Indopacific Southern Rockhopper Penguin, Eudyptes chrysocome filholi - breeds on subantarctic islands of the Indian and western Pacific oceans

Until recently, the Northern Rockhopper Penguin, which breeds on islands of Tristan da Cunha as well as on Amsterdam and St Paul Islands, was included with the southern populations under the scientific name Eudyptes chrysocome. The birds were then collectively known as Rockhopper Penguin. The "northern" birds - which actually live at almost the same latitude as the "southern" ones - are now usually separated as E. moseleyi. It has been proposed to separate the remaining two subspecies of the Southern Rockhopper Penguin as full species also, but this is not widely accepted.

The rockhopper penguins are closely related to the Macaroni Penguin (E. chrysolophus) and the Royal Penguin (E. schlegeli), which may just be a colour morph of the Macaroni Penguin however.

Distribution, ecology and status

Eudyptes chrysocome chrysocome colony on Saunders Island, Falkland Islands

Southern Rockhopper Penguins have a global population of roughly 1 million pairs, perhaps a bit more. About two-thirds of the global population belongs to E. c. chrysocome which breeds on the Falkland Islands and on islands off Argentina and southern Chile. These include most significantly Isla de los Estados, the Ildefonso Islands, the Diego Ramírez Islands and Isla Noir. E. c. filholi breeds on the Prince Edward Islands, the Crozet Islands, the Kerguelen Islands, Heard Island, Macquarie Island, Campbell Island, the Auckland Islands and the Antipodes Islands. Outside the breeding season, the birds can be found roaming the waters offshore their colonies.

These penguins feed on krill, squid, octopus, fish, molluscs, plankton, cuttlefish, and crustaceans. The breeding colonies are located from sea-level to cliff-tops, and sometimes inland.

A rockhopper penguin named "Rocky" in Bergen Aquarium in Norway, lived to 29 years 4 months. It died in October 2003. This stands as the age record for rockhopper penguins, and possibly it was the oldest penguin known.

The Southern Rockhopper Penguin is classified as Vulnerable species by the IUCN. Its population has declined by about one-third in the last thirty years. However, the Northern Rockhopper's population is only a fraction of that of the Southern Rockhopper, and consequently the status of the latter is unchanged by the taxonomic split.

Rockhoppers in popular culture

Adult Eudyptes chrysocome chrysocome in the New Island (Falklands Islands) rookery

As noted above, rockhopper penguins are the most familiar of the crested penguins to the general public. Their breeding colonies, namely those around South America, today attract many tourists who enjoy watching the birds' antics. Historically, the same islands were popular stopover and replenishing sites for whalers and other seafarers since at least the early 18th century. It is hardly surprising that almost all crested penguins depicted in movies, books and so on are ultimately based on Eudyptes chrysocome chrysocome.

In film and video

  • Several of the characters in the film Surf's Up, including protagonist Cody Maverick (voiced by Shia LaBeouf) are Rockhoppers.
  • Rocko, voiced by James Belushi in the Don Bluth film The Pebble and the Penguin, is a Rockhopper.
  • Lovelace, voiced by Robin Williams in the 2006 film Happy Feet is a Rockhopper
  • Fidgel from the Big Idea Productions video series 3-2-1 Penguins! is a Rockhopper.

In computer and video games

  • The characters Ivan and Tobi from the Konami video game Sexy Parodius are actually a pair of Rockhoppers.
  • Hopper is the name of a Rockhopper Penguin in the Nintendo video game series Animal Crossing.
  • Rockhopper is also the name of a pirate penguin in the MMOG Club Penguin.
  • The Rockhopper penguin is an adoptable animal in the 2006 PC game, Zoo Tycoon 2: Marine Mania. A fictional joke version of it, the "Killer Penguin", appears as a lab accident in the game's sequel, Zoo Tycoon 2: Extinct Animals. It is depicted as able to kill any animal, including dinosaurs.

In music and literature

  • The cover of the Fleetwood Mac album Penguin features a Rockhopper. The penguin subsequently became Fleetwood Mac's mascot.
  • Rockhopper IV is the name of a spaceship in Alastair Reynolds's 2005 science fiction novel, Pushing Ice. The ship's logo is a penguin, genus unspecified.
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