Polar Biology

, Volume 42, Issue 1, pp 27–45 | Cite as

Skull morphology and ontogenetic variation of the Southern Giant Petrel Macronectes giganteus (Aves: Procellariiformes)

  • Alejandra Piro
  • Carolina Acosta HospitalecheEmail author
Original Paper


The Southern Giant Petrel Macronectes giganteus is the largest Procellariidae around the world. Beyond the most striking features on the skull, the strong hooked bill with tubular, dorsally-placed, external nostrils, these petrels have been the focus of diverse studies, except osteological ones. Even less is known about the osteology in juveniles and chicks. A comparative description of the skull anatomy of the Southern Giant Petrel M. giganteus, highlighting the differences along each postnatal ontogenetic stage, is given here. As a result, we found that the shape of the skull does not vary among the compared stages and that there is a progression in the fusion of the elements of the skull and mandible. Besides, less obvious results show a little intraspecific variation among specimens of the same ontogenetic stage, involving osteological features such as the quantity and shape of foramina within pneumatic bone surfaces, and the fact that general size is not associated with sexual dimorphism. The beak acquires its characteristic development and sturdiness from early stages. Conversely, the fossae glandulae nasalis is only developed in juveniles and adults, being absent in earlier stages.


Osteology Anatomy Cranium Mandible Procellariidae 



We thank Diego Montalti, Luciano Segura, and Mariana Picasso (Museo de La Plata), and Yolanda Davies (Museo Argentino de Ciencias Naturales) for access to the materials and the use of the dissection laboratory in the Sección Ornitología in the Museo de La Plata, and Luis Pagano and Eduardo Etcheverry (Museo de La Plata) for the material preparation. CAH is particularly grateful to Oceanwide Expeditions, Vlissingen (NL), for financial support. We also thank the editor in chief, Dieter Piepenburg, and the reviewers, Julian Hume, Alexander Vargas, and an anonymous one, for the helpful comments.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflicts of interest

Authors declare no conflicts of interest.


  1. Baumel JJ, King JE, Breazile HE, Vanden Berge JC (1993) Handbook of avian anatomy: nomina anatomica avium, 2nd edn. Publications of the Nuttall Ornithological Club, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  2. Bugoni L, Furness RW (2009) Age composition and sexual size dimorphism of albatrosses and petrels off Brazil. Mar Ornith 37:253–260Google Scholar
  3. Carboneras C (1992) Family Procellariidae (petrels and shearwaters). In: del Hoyo J, Elliot A, Sargatal J (eds) Handbook of the birds of the world. Lynz, Barcelona, pp 216–239Google Scholar
  4. Carlos CJ, Voisin JF (2008) Identifying giant petrels, Macronectes giganteus and M. halli, in the field and in the hand. Seabird 21:1–15Google Scholar
  5. Chupin I (1997) Human Impact and Breeding Success in Southern Giant Petrel Macronectes giganteus on King George Island (South Shetland Islands) Korean J. Polar Res 8:113–116Google Scholar
  6. Conroy JWH (1972) Ecological aspects of the biology of the Giant Petrel, Macronectes giganteus (Gmelin), in the maritime Antarctic. British Antarctic Survey, LondonGoogle Scholar
  7. Copello S, Quintana F, Somoza G (2006) Sex determination and sexual size-dimorphism in Southern Giant-Petrels (Macronectes giganteus) from Patagonia, Argentina. Emu 106:141–146. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Dénes FV, Silveira LF (2007) Cranial osteology and taxonomy of albatrosses of genus Diomedea Linneaus, 1758 and Thalassarche Reichenbach, 1853 (Procellariformes: Diomeidae). Pap Avulsos de Zool 47:43–61CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Emslie SD, Karnovsky N, Trivelpiece W (1995) Avian predation at penguin colonies on King George Island, Antarctica. Wilson Bull 107:317–327Google Scholar
  10. Genbrugge A, Herrel A, Boone M, Van Hoorebeke L, Podos J, Dirckx J, Aerts P, Palma AD, Pilgrim RLC (2011) The head of the finch: the anatomy of the feeding system in two species of finches (Geospiza fortis and Padda oryzivora). J Anat 219:676–695CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Hieronymus TL, Witmer LM (2010) Homology and evolution of avian compound rhamphothecae. Auk 127:590–604CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Hunter S (1984) Breeding biology and population dynamics of giant petrels Macronectes at South Georgia (Aves: Procellariiformes). J Zool 203:441–460CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Hunter S (1985) The role of giant petrels in the Southern Ocean ecosystem. In: Siegfried WR, Condy PR, Laws RM (eds) Antarctic nutrient cycles and food webs. Springer, Berlin, pp 534–542CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Hunter S (1987) Species and sexual isolating mechanisms in sibling species of giant petrels Macronectes. Polar Biol 7:295–301CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hunter S (1991) The impact of avian predator-scavengers on King Penguin (Aptenodytes patagonicus) chicks at Marion Island. Ibis 133:343–350CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Hunter S, Brooke M (1992) Diet of giant petrels Macronectes spp. at Marion Island, Southern Indian Ocean. Colon Waterbirds 15:56–65CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Johansen K, Millard RW (1973) Vascular responses to temperature in the foot of the giant fulmar, Macronectes giganteus. J Comp Physiol 85:47. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Johansen K, Millard RW (1974) Cold-induced neurogenic vasodilatation in skin of the giant fulmar Macronectes giganteus. Am J Physiol 227:1232–1235Google Scholar
  19. Johnstone GW (1977) Comparative feeding ecology of the giant petrels Macronectes giganteus (Gmelin) and M. halli (Mathews). In: Llano G (ed) Adaptations within antarctic ecosystems. Gulf, Houston, pp 647–668Google Scholar
  20. Livezey BC, Zusi RL (2006) Higher-order phylogenetics of modern Aves based on comparative anatomy: I. Methods and characters. Bull Carn Mus Nat Hist 37:1–544CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Lynch HJ, Naveen R, Fagan WF (2008) Censuses of Penguin, Blue-eyed Shag Phalacrocorax Atriceps and Southern Giant Petrel Macronectes giganteus populations on the Antarctic Peninsula 2001–2007. Mar Ornithol 36:83–97Google Scholar
  22. Maynard BJ (2003) Shearwaters, petrels, and fulmars (Procellariidae). In: Hutchins M, Jackson J, Bock WJ et al (eds) Grzimek’s animal life encyclopedia, vol 8, pp 123–133Google Scholar
  23. Mayr G (2004) Morphological evidence for sister group relationship between flamingos (Aves: Phoenicopteridae) and grebes (Podicipedidae). Zool J Linn Soc 140:157–169CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Palma RL, Pilgrim RLC (1987) A revision of the genus Perineus (Phthiraptera: Philopteridae). NZ J Zool 14:563–586CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Patterson DL, Woehler EJ, Croxall JP, Cooper J, Poncet S, Peter HU, Hunter S, Fraser WR (2008) Breeding distribution and population status of the Northern Giant Petrel Macronectes halli and the Southern Giant Petrel M. giganteus. Mar Ornithol 36:115–124Google Scholar
  26. Sievert PR, Butler R, Place AR (1990) Total body water and its turnover in normal and salt-loaded nestling Leach’s Storm-Petrels, Oceanodroma leucorhoa. Bui Mt Desert Island Biol Lab 29:143–146Google Scholar
  27. Trivelpiece SG, Trivelpiece WZ (1998) Post-fledging dispersal of southern giant petrels Macronectes giganteus banded at Admiralty Bay, King George Island, Antarctica. Mar Ornithol 26:63–68Google Scholar
  28. Voisin JF, Bester MN (1979) The specific status of giant petrels Macronectes at Gough Island. In Proceedings of the symposium on birds of the sea and shore, pp 215–222Google Scholar
  29. Warham J (1962) The biology of the Giant Petrel Macronectes giganteus. Auk 79:139–160CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Warham J (1996) The behaviour, population biology and physiology of the petrels. Academic, San Diego, p 613Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Sección Ornitología, División Zoología Vertebrados, Museo de La PlataFacultad de Ciencias Naturales y MuseoLa PlataArgentina
  2. 2.CONICET, División Paleontología Vertebrados, Museo de La PlataFacultad de Ciencias Naturales y MuseoLa PlataArgentina

Personalised recommendations