Blue Penguin Eudyptula

Blue Penguin

Genus Eudyptula

One species with six subspecies differing slightly in size and plumage and with considerable overlap in measurements.

  • Blue Penguin Eudyptula minor, Australia and New Zealand. Six subspecies:¬†
    • Fairy Penguin E. m. novaehollandiae, southern Australia and Tasmania
    • (Little) Blue Penguin E. m. minor, New Zealand, southern part South Island.
    • (Little) Blue Penguin E. m. iredalei, New Zealand, northern part of North Island.
    • (Little) Blue Penguin E. m. variabilis, New Zealand, southern North Island, Cook Strait area, northern South Island
    • White-flippered Penguin E. m. albosignata, New Zealand, Canterbury Coast of South Island.
    • E. m. chathamensis, Chatham Islands.

Evolution, taxonomy and distribution

The Blue Penguins have been subjected to extensive taxonomic revision. In 1976, the genus was reduced from two species to a single species (Eudyptula minor) with six subspecies, based on a morphometric analysis. Banks et al. (2002) did a DNA-analysis of the six hypothesised subspecies to examine their relationships. Evidence is found for two unexpected clades.
The first consisting of Otago (minor) and Australian (novahollandiae) populations. Banks et al. (2008) mention two slightly different forms within de Australian populations. Birds from western Australia appear to be larger and have longer bills.
The second clade consists of northern comprises Cook Strait (iredalei, variabilis), Chatham Island (chathamensis), and Banks Peninsula populations (albosignata).
Some support for these two clades was also found from a re-analysis of morphometric data and from a preliminary examination of vocalisations. The find of two clades resulted in three possible evolution and radiation scenarios to explain the two clades and the close relationship of minor and novaehollandiae, the latter neighbouring the subspecies of the other clade. Both a New Zealand and an Australian origin for the species is possible in these scenarios.


New Zealand subspecies albosignata is the largest. Northern subspecies such as iredalei tend to be smaller. Males are larger than females and have heavier bills. Juveniles have more slender bills.

Little Blue Penguin
Eudyptula minor iredalei. Baylyss Beach, NI, New Zealand
Culmen: 31.7 mm; total; 87.9 mm. Unsexed

White-flippered Penguin
Eudyptula minor albosignata. Clarence, SI, New Zealand
Culmen: 38.0 mm; total: 79.3 mm, adult male

  • Skull
  • Flight aparatus
  • Pelvis and legs
  • Vertebrae and ribs