Emperor Penguin

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The emperor penguin is not just the largest seabird, it is also the hardiest. Living on the Antarctic ice pack, it endures below zero temperatures and hurricane force winds. The sight of emperor penguins waddling over the ice, flapping their specially adapted wings, is quite comic. These birds have exchanged a mastery of land and air for grace and agility in the water, together with an ability to survive in Antarctica – one of the worlds harshest and most demanding environments.

Habitat: The emperor penguin is found only on the Antarctic ice pack and in surrounding oceans. Although the emperor penguins is a marine bird and feeds exclusively at sea, its breeding sites, called rookeries, are usually situated on the solid ice under the shelter of an ice cliff, often many miles inland. Although the emperor penguin breeds in winter, it must choose a site where the ice will not melt before the young have fledged in summer. Inland rookeries may contain up to 6,000 birds.

Predators and Prey: There are more than 300,000 emperor penguins in Antarctica. Due to their remote habitat, they have few predators. The only predators which occasionally kill adult penguins in and around the water are leopard seals and killer whales. One third of all the young fall prey to the giant petrel. Emperor penguins themselves prey on fish, squid, and shrimp. Although they are not fast swimmers – reaching only 3-5 miles per hour – penguins are agile and quite adept at catching their prey.

Breeding: The breeding season begins in March and a single egg is laid between May and July. No suitable nest building material is available in the Antarctic, so the parents support the egg on their feet to protect it from the cold. When the parents pass the egg from one to the other, they take part in a ritual display, dropping their bills onto their chest and calling. After the female lays the egg, she returns to the sea to feed, leaving the male to incubate the egg. He incubates the egg for 40-50 days, shielding it from the icy temperatures (which may fall as low as –40 degrees Fahrenheit) with a fold of skin that extends from his belly. Large groups of incubating males huddle together for warmth. The female returns just as the egg is about to hatch. She incubates the egg the last few days before it hatches, and then broods the chick for 40 days. This allows the exhausted male, who by this time has lost nearly half his body weight, to return to the sea to feed. Penguin pairs take turns incubating the egg. A two-week-old chick feeds from its mother. Fed by both parents, the chick grows quickly.

Special Adaptations: The emperor penguin is specially adapted to survive in some of the most inhospitable conditions on earth. The penguin has thick plumage with 2 dozen feathers per square inch. They are short and stiff with a downy base. The closely overlapped feathers are highly effective at trapping a layer of warm, insulating air. The emperor penguins body shape is also a heat saving adaptation; it is blueberry and carried low to the ground, so less cold air can circulate around it. The emperor penguins nasal passages even minimize heat loss when it breathes out.

Key Facts: Sizes, Breeding, Lifestyle, Related Species:

Length: 45 in.
Weight: 45-90 lb.

Sexual maturity: 3-6 years
Breeding season: March - December
No. of broods: 1
Incubation: 64 days
Fledging period: 40-80 days

Habit: Sociable, living in colonies of 500 to 20,000 pairs
Diet: Fish, squid, and crustaceans
Life Span: 20 years

Related Species: The emperor penguins closest relative is the king penguin, Aptenodytes patagonica, which looks similar, but is smaller, measuring only 35 in. and weighing 25-45 lb.

Distribution: It is the most southerly breeding penguin which rarely strays outside the Antarctic

Conservation: The emperor penguin has few natural enemies and exploits a habitat few other animals can. Despite numbering over 150,000 pairs, increased fishing and pollution of the polar seas could seriously threaten the birds long-term survival. Underwater Adaptations of the Emperor Penguin: Unable to fly and ungainly on land, the emperor penguin is most at home on and under the water. Its smooth, seal like body enables it to slip easily through the water in pursuit of prey. Underwater propulsion is provided by powerful strokes of the penguin's paddle like wings, while the feet and tail are used to steer.

Did You Know:

The emperor penguin can dive to a depth of 870 feet and can stay underwater for 18 minutes.

During the breeding season, males may not feed from March until July, a total of 110-115 days without food.

Unlike flying birds, the emperor penguin does not have light, airfilled bones. Its heavier bones make it less buoyant in water, which allows it to dive below the surface with ease.

On smooth, icy slopes, the emperor penguin lies on its belly and toboggans across it.

Description: About 4 feet tall, it has a black head, back and flippers with white bars on the upper back, white under parts, orange and yellow on the sides of the head and orange on the lower bill.  The female lays a single white egg which the male places on his feet and incubates for 2 months. The young become independent about 5 1/2 months after hatching.

Habitat: Emperor penguins live in the Antarctic on the ice and rocky islands off the coast of Antarctica.

Foods: They eat fish, squid and plankton.

Did you know?: Penguins are equipped for swimming rather than flying. They have a layer of blubber under the skin and a layer of down under their outer feathers to protect them from the cold.

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