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Penguin Food Chain

Penguin Food Chain
Penguins feed on a range of sea creatures: fish, squid, sardines, anchovies,holotherian(sea cucumber) but most of all, especially the smaller penguins, on krill, a small shrimp. Without proper food supplies and enough of them we would have no penguins. However human activities are already making huge inroads in the supply of this food.



Krill are defined as planktonic crustaceans. Essentially small shrimps they are the key species in the Antarctic eco system. The name comes from Kril the Norwegian word for tiny fish or lobster food. There are 85 species world wide and of these 11 are found only in the Antarctic. The largest is Euphausia superba, 5-6cm in size, and is the one commonly known as krill and most commonly seen. These are very common and seen in huge swarms.

Lobster krill

Krill are food for fish, squid, penguins, albatross and other sea-birds, some seals and baleen whales and so are vital for all wildlife in the Antarctic. Crabeater seals, for example eat krill, not crabs and have specially adapted teeth for eating it. Unfortunately, European and Asian countries are commercially fishing for krill, especially the former Soviet Union and Japan, so over-fishing could devastate antarctic wildlife. Krill are also classed as zooplankton (animal plankton), as distinct from phytoplankton (plant plankton). They can be white or greenish but the dominant colour is pink as can be seen from the colour of the poo in penguin colonies. Krill food is phytoplankton, which they trap with their hairy thoracic legs. Cannibalistically, krill can also eat other zooplankton. Krill are heavier than water so they gradually sink in the sea and use energy to come up again. They propagate by laying eggs. In the warm waters surrounding the volcanic Deception Island in the Antarctic Peninsula I saw cooked pink krill floating along the shoreline.



Squid are cephalopods related to octopus and are food for the larger penguins. Besides swimming using their fins, they can move fast by jet propulsion. They have good eyesight and catch prey, notably krill, with the 2 longest of their 10 tentacles which come out of their heads, hence the name cephalopod from greek, head + foot. They bite lumps out of them using their hard beaks. As a species they range from 2cm to 20m in size. Besides food for penguins they are also eaten by sea birds, toothed whales, seals and fishes.


Plankton are the bottom of the Antarctic food chain, providing food for krill which are the food for most of the Antarctic species and the basis of the Antarctic eco system.Plankton is mostly microscopic drifting or floating forms of organic life or algae (simple plants) but can also be shrimp-like (zooplankton). Zooplankton feed on phtyoplankton. Phytoplankton (plant plankton) are tiny diatoms, unicellular plants with cell walls made of silica., trapping solar energy by photosynthesis and absorbing important nutrients like phosphates and nitrates. Phytoplankton appear as specks of dust and there is a plankton bloom when the sun heats up. We saw plankton on the filters (rollers) of the Russian icebreaker Kapitan Khlebnikov. It looked like a very uninteresting greyish greeny brown grunge and has to be cleaned off regularly.

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Antarctic & Other Penguins Home Page |Penguin Food Chain |The Original Penguin - The Great Auk |Prehistoric Penguins |Emperor Penguins |King Penguins |Gentoo Penguins |Chinstrap Penguins |Adelie Penguins |Macaroni Penguins |Rockhopper Penguins |Royal Penguins |Yellow Eyed Penguins |Erect Crested Penguins |Snares Island Crested Penguins |Fiordland Crested Penguins |African Penguins |Magellanic Penguins |Humboldt Penguins |Galapagos Penguins |Little Blue Penguins |White Flippered Penguins |Penguins - Historic Glimpses |Penguin Art Gallery |Message Board |Guestbook |Mail Form