Cameron MacDonald, of Ilam School, asks :-

How many species of penguins are there?

Ian McLean, a Zoologist at the University of Canterbury, responded.

Between 16 and 18 species are currently recognised.

The classification of any group of organisms is generally straightforward for most of the species, but there always seem to be a few examples over which the experts disagree. Penguins are typical. The white flippered penguin of Banks Peninsula is sometimes counted as a different species from the little blue (or little) penguin, and some people also separate two of the crested penguins (royal and macaroni) into distinct species.

Disagreements such as these remind us that evolution is dynamic, and most scientists have no problem with the idea that some populations are borderline as "good" species.

However, the fossil record of penguins extends back 45 million years, and there are even more extinct species known than modern species. The extinct forms include a monster known from North Otago that stood about 1.5 m tall and was much bigger overall than the emperor penguin. Most people know that penguins occur only in the southern hemisphere. However, few also know that New Zealand is the most important centre of penguin distribution. Of the 6 types, or genera (emperor/king; crested; little; yellow eyed; pygoscelid, eg. adelie penguin; spheniscid, eg. Galapagos penguin), all except the spheniscids occur regularly in the New Zealand region.