10 cool facts about the rockhopper penguin

Who doesn’t love Lovelace, the rockhopper penguin in the movie Happy Feet? These are the 10 cool things we found out about them.

1. Out of the ordinary

While most penguins are prone to waddle, the rockhopper penguin has a special way of getting around. Yes, you guessed it: hopping. Another clue hidden in this penguin’s name is his preferred habitat – he likes rocky shorelines, like those of New Zealand.

2. Super cute

The film Happy Feet did a wonderful job of portraying the rockhopper penguin with the character of Lovelace. These penguins are considered to be part of the crested penguin family and are also known as one of the smallest subspecies, only growing up to 60cm in height. When a penguin is that small, it’s a no-brainer that he would be fairly light, weighing in at 2.5 to 3kg. They can also live up to 10 years.

3. Angry birds

Rockhopper penguins are known to socialise a lot, but sometimes they become aggressive when a nesting spot, food or mating is on the line. When fighting, they aren’t shy to use their flippers as weapons, usually hitting one another. These birds communicate in various ways, from head shaking, bowing and throwing back their heads to bellowing sounds as a warning or to locate their chicks.

4. Yellow must be in season

They have yellow tufts above their eyes, which look like big extended eyebrows. These tufts consist of black and yellow feathers. They also have distinct red beaks – they are born with black beaks and through the maturing process their beaks change colour. These creatures are known for their unique red irises, contrasted with black eyelids and cheeks. They have a pair of the cutest pink webbed feet.

5. Teamwork!

The females lay two different-sized eggs and usually only the larger one hatches. This takes place during the summer, and mostly dried grass is used to line the hole the partners dig to use as a nest. Both the male and female penguins are present throughout the breeding process. They take turns to incubate the egg (for about 35 days) and feed the hatchling. Male rockhoppers are able to regurgitate ‘milk’ for the hatchling to feed on.

6. They grow up so fast

Rockhopper penguins only grow their yellow tufts in adult life, making them black and white and fuzzy as hatchlings. Both parents are responsible for looking after the chick, and after 25 days the chick joins other chicks in what is called a ‘crèche’. As these penguin chicks grow, they need more food. The crèche makes it possible for both parents to go out in search of food for themselves and the chick. When the parents want to feed their chick after hunting, they simply call him forward and regurgitate the food they caught out in the ocean. Chicks are fed for up to 10 weeks, and after that they must fend for themselves.

7. Vulnerable creatures

These penguins enjoy a variety when it comes to cuisine. They eat krill, squid and everything in between. The biggest downfall of these birds is that they will eat anything in the ocean that seems edible. This includes things like plastic – and that’s why we have to keep our oceans clean. When these lovely birds happen to stumble upon a piece of plastic and eat it, their chances of survival are low. This and other factors, like commercial fishing, oil spills and egg harvesting, have doomed these penguins to a ‘vulnerable’ spot on the list of threatened species.

8. They always have cold feet

Have you ever tried licking ice with your warm tongue? It stuck to the ice, didn’t it? The same thing would happen if a penguin’s feet were warm. But these birds have a great way of ensuring that they don’t stick to the ice, and it’s called ‘counterflow’. With this process, the penguin’s feet always stay cold because of his blood flow. The veins and arteries in a penguin’s foot are close to one another. The arteries carry warm blood into the feet. However, the warmth is then transferred to the close-by veins, guaranteeing that only cold blood reaches the bottom of the penguin’s feet. That’s why you never see penguins sticking to the ice.

9. Magic trick

Penguins naturally take in a lot of salt during the day when swimming in the ocean or feeding. But too much salt can be damaging to the cells – the salt extracts the water inside the cells, causing them to die and making the penguin ill. The solution? Penguins have salt glands just above their eyes. These glands make sure that any excess salt is removed from the penguin’s body. Through a long and complicated process, the salt is moved to the penguin’s nostrils. Eventually it comes out of his nostrils – usually with a sneeze, guaranteeing a healthy penguin.

10. Not dressed to impress

There is a reason why these rockhopper penguins have white bellies and dark backs. Their looks help to camouflage them when they swim in the ocean. Their white bellies help to hide them when viewed from below, because the white camouflages with the bright ocean surface. Their darker backs disguise the penguins with the dark ocean bottom when they are seen from above. This ensures that they’re successful in a hunt and helps to avoid predators.