25 animals of Antarctica and their characteristics

Charles McCarthy
25 animals of Antarctica and their characteristics

The Antarctic animals that are presented here are almost entirely marine, since the climatic conditions in Antarctica are not favorable for the development of terrestrial life. In fact, the only strictly terrestrial animal that lives there is a mosquito. While the mammals that live in Antarctica have evolved to adapt to marine life and are only partially terrestrial in some cases.

Such is the case with seals and whales, which swapped legs for fins and developed thick skin and layers of blubber. In the same way, the penguins changed flight for swimming, in order to survive in these adverse environmental conditions..

Emperor penguin chickens, one of the most recognized animals in Antarctica

On the other hand, unlike the terrestrial environment, the aquatic environment harbors a great diversity of life and only in fish there are more than 200 species. There is also a large number of mollusks.

This is due to the greater abundance of nutrients in the cold waters that surround the continent and little human intervention. Antarctica is one of the few places on Earth that remains little intervened by human beings. However, climate change can cause serious alterations to its fauna.

In fact, it has been warned about the possibility that sharks, uncommon in this area, invade it as the waters become warmer. This could alter food chains and therefore the biodiversity of its waters.

Mammals of Antarctica

Fin whale or fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus)

Balaenoptera physalus

It is the largest whale after the blue whale, reaching about 20 meters in average length and 80 tons in weight. Among other things, it differs from the blue whale by its dorsal fin, which reaches 60 cm in height. In addition, the posterior base of the fin extends in a ridge to the tail..

Blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus)

Blue whale

This is the largest animal on the planet, reaching 150 tons in weight and up to 27 meters in length. That size sustains it by feeding on about 4 tons of krill per day..

It is a marine mammal of the cetacean group, specifically a baleen whale. Bales are filaments that cover their mouths and serve to filter seawater and capture krill..

Frank whale (Eubalaena australis)

Eubalaena australis

This whale does not have a dorsal fin, its pectoral fins are short and its head represents a quarter of the length of its body. On the other hand, on its head it has grayish-white calluses on which whale lice (chiamid crustaceans) adhere. They get to measure 16 meters long and reach a weight of 40 tons.

Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae)

Megaptera novaeangliae

The females of this species can measure up to 19 meters in length, while the males reach about 15 meters. They are characterized by their long pectoral fins, up to 6 m in length, and by the knots on their fins, jaws and on the head..

Southern Elephant Seal or Elephant Seal (Mirounga leonina)

Mirounga leonina

It gets its name from a 30 cm proboscis that hangs above the mouth in males. Males up to 6 meters long and 6,000 kg have been found, while females are half the size and maximum 900 kg. Despite their weight, they are capable of moving relatively fast on land, at a speed of up to 8 km / h.

Ross seal (Ommatophoca rossii)

Ommatophoca rossii

The Ross seal is one of the smallest species, with a maximum of 2.5 meters long and an average weight of 210 kg. It has dark brown fur on the back and greyish white on the belly, with vertical gray stripes on the throat and its most striking feature is its huge protruding eyes. When disturbed, this seal raises its head vertically, arches its back and expands its chest.

Weddell seal (Leptonychotes weddellii)

Leptonychotes weddellii

It is a dark gray seal with black spots, reaching about 3.5 meters in length and 600 kg in weight. It is considered one of the seal species that dive deeper, up to 600 meters, and for a longer time, about 60 min. It feeds mainly on Antarctic cod and squid.

Sea leopard or leopard seal (Hydrurga leptonyx)

Hydrurga leptonyx

It is a seal, that is to say, of the fócid family, therefore it lacks ears and moves with difficulty on land. Their skin is dark gray on the head and back of the body and whitish with black dots on the lower part of the neck and chest..

The ventral part of these animals has light gray tones. The sea leopard reaches up to almost 4 m in length, weighing 600 kg and is the main predator of penguins.

Antarctic sea lion (Arctophoca gazella)

Arctophoca gazella

It is an otárido, that is to say a marine mammal similar to a seal, but that unlike these it has visible ears and they move easily on land.

Males are dark brown skinned, up to 2 meters long and weighing 230 kg, while females and juveniles are gray and smaller in size and weight. They eat mainly krill, although they also eat fish.

Orca (Orcinus orca)

Orcinus orca

This toothed cetacean belongs to the group of dolphins and is one of the largest marine predators. It has a black coloration on the back and white on the belly, with a large dorsal fin of up to 1.8 meters and a sharp intelligence.

Males can reach up to 9 meters in length and 5.5 tons in weight. Their favorite food is seals, as well as other marine mammals, squid and fish..

Birds of Antarctica

Wandering AlbatrossDiomedea exulans)

Diomedea exulans

The traveling or wandering albatross is a seabird that reaches up to 3.5 meters in wingspan (the largest in the world) and 1.3 meters in height. Its beak is 20 cm long and its plumage is white with black wingtips. Feeds on squid, octopus, fish, and ship waste.

Antarctic cormorant (Leucocarbo bransfieldensis)

Antarctic cormorant (Leucocarbo bransfieldensis). Source: Mirek237, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

This cormorant can measure up to 80 cm long, has black plumage on the face, upper part of the head, back and wings. While the neck, sides and belly are white. One of its most outstanding features is a blue ring around the eyes and blue eyes..

Antarctic Pagal or Polar Skua (Stercorarius maccormicki)

Stercorarius maccormicki

This seabird has dark brown wings, back and tail, while the rest are light brown. Although there are generally darker body variants.

It weighs up to 1.6 kg, is about 55 cm long and has a wingspan of 1.4 meters. It feeds mainly on fish, although it also eats penguin eggs and chicks.

Antarctic pigeon or giant plover (Chionis spp.)

Antarctic pigeon or giant plover (Chionis spp.). Source: Photo © Samuel Blanc, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

There are two species of this bird, both endemic to Antarctica, Chionis albus Y Chionis minor. The first inhabits the Antarctic area near America and the second in the area near the Indian Ocean.

They are birds with white plumage, about 40 cm and a flight similar to that of a dove, however they are not related to them. They are characterized by being scavengers, feeding on all kinds of dead animals and even guano (seabird excrement).

Antarctic petrel (Thalassoica antarctica)

Antarctic petrel (Thalassoica antarctica). Source: François Guerraz, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

This seabird reaches 45 cm in length, is brown on the head, back and tail, with a white belly and a plume on the head. It is very common in the Ross and Weddell Seas in Antarctica, where it feeds on squid, krill and fish.

Adelie Penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae)

Adelie penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae). Source: Andrew Shiva / Wikipedia

This penguin reaches a length of 70 cm, a weight of 4 kg and has a slightly longer tail than the rest of the species. It is also characterized by the white ring around the eyes and the feathers at the base of its red beak. It forms large populations, the largest being that of Ross Island, of about 500 million individuals and it feeds mainly on krill.

Chinstrap penguin (Pygoscelis antarcticus)

Chinstrap Penguin (Pygoscelis antarcticus)

This species is about 72 cm long, reaching up to 5 kg in weight, and inhabits the Antarctic and subantarctic islands. It is easily recognized by the black or gray line that goes from ear to ear below the head and hence its common name. They eat krill, shrimp, squid and fish.

Emperor penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri)

Emperor penguin adults and juveniles (Aptenodytes forsteri)

This is the largest penguin species, reaching 1.2 meters in length and 45 kg in weight, being endemic to Antarctica. In addition to the characteristic black and white color of penguins, this species has a pale yellow breast and intense yellow spots around the ears. Feeds on fish, krill and squid.

Gentoo penguin (Pygoscelis papua)

Gentoo penguin (Pygoscelis papua). Source: Yumaesmanolito, CC BY 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Their populations are increasing, living mainly on islands, although there are smaller populations on the Antarctic Peninsula. It reaches about 90 cm in height, with up to 8 kg in weight, with a characteristic white spot on its head. They eat mainly krill, squid and fish.

Insects of Antarctica

Belgium antarctica (family Chironomidae)

Belgium antarctica

This flightless mosquito is the only fully terrestrial animal in Antarctica and is only about 12mm long. It is adapted to the harsh conditions of this continent, resisting to freezing changes in pH, salinity and lack of oxygen..

In addition, it is considered that the absence of wings may be associated with the fact that flying in the conditions of strong winds in Antarctica is a risk for such a small organism..

Crustaceans of Antarctica

Krill (Euphausia spp.)

Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba). Source: Krill666.jpg: Uwe Kils I am willing to give the image in 1700 resolution to Wikipedia Uwe Kils, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

This small crustacean is a relevant component in most of the food chains of Antarctica and is an important part of plankton. It is noteworthy that food chains on this continent tend to be quite short.

Such is the case of the one formed by the phytoplankton that serves as food for the krill that will be consumed by the baleen whales. In turn, whale droppings are rich in iron and fertilize phytoplankton. Although there are several species of krill globally, in Antarctica they are found Euphausia superba, Euphausia crystallorophias Y Euphausia valentin.

Mollusks of Antarctica

Colossal Squid (Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni)

Size comparison between colossal squid and human. Source: © Citron, wikimedia commons

It is a mollusk that weighs up to 750 kg and has a length of more than fifteen meters, including the 10 tentacles. Of these, the two prehensile tentacles are longest and the remaining 8 are shorter..

The species has the largest eyes in the animal kingdom and the beak is larger than that of the giant squid (Architeuthis spp.). These animals produce bioluminescence through specialized organs (photophores) located above the eyes.

Fish of Antarctica

Antarctic cod (Dissostichus mawsoni)

Antarctic cod (Dissostichus mawsoni). Source: No machine-readable author provided. Pcziko assumed (based on copyright claims)., CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

This species belongs to the group of fish that have adapted to living in waters with temperatures below 0 ° C, thanks to the fact that they have antifreeze glycoproteins.

These fish are capable of swimming 2,000 meters deep and their body reaches up to 2 meters in length and 135 kg in weight. They feed on shrimp and small fish such as the Antarctic silverfish (Pleuragramma antarcticum).

Striped Drake or Mackerel Icefish (Champsocephalus gunnari)

It is a fish that lives in waters between 0 and 700 meters deep and is a species of great commercial importance. Its elongated body reaches up to 66 cm in length and a weight of 2 kg, feeding on Antarctic krill.

Marbled weft (Notothenia rossii)

Marbled weft (Notothenia rossii). Source: Valerie Loeb, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

This Antarctic fish, up to 92 cm in length and 10 kg in weight, lives in shallow waters and feeds on zooplankton. It is well adapted to cold waters by having antifreeze proteins and is subject to fishing. It is a species whose populations have drastically decreased due to excess catches.


  1. British Antarctic Survey. Bedmap2. Natural Environment Research Council. (Viewed July 18, 2020). Taken from: bas.ac.uk
  2. Calì, F, Riginella, E., La Mesa, M. and · Mazzol, C. (2017). Life history traits of Notothenia rossii and N. coriiceps along the southern Scotia Arc. Polar biology.
  3. Crespo, E.A., Lewis, M.N. and Campagna, C. (2007). Marine mammals: pinnipeds and cetaceans. The Argentine sea and its fishing resources.
  4. Mackintosh, N.A. (1960). The Pattern of Distribution of the Antarctic Fauna. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences.
  5. Schiavini, A.C.M., Yorio, P.M., Gandini, P.A., Raya-Rey, A.N. and Boersma, P.D. (2005). The penguins of the Argentine coasts: population status and conservation. The Hornero.
  6. World Wild Life. Tundra. (Viewed on December 4, 2020). Taken from: worldwildlife.org

Yet No Comments