Emperor Penguin – Aptenodytes forsteri
Aptenodytes Genus – Great Penguins
Height: 44-48 in.
Weight: 55-84 lb.
Life expectancy in the wild: 20 years.
Approximated Population: 595,000
Population tendency: Stable
IUCN Conservation Status: NT
The Emperor penguin is undoubtedly one of the most studied, photographed and scientifically analyzed penguins; this certainly is because the astonishing trips they make to reproduce and their unparalleled sacrifices they do to preserve the species.
Among all 17 species, the Emperor is the largest penguin. Their thick complexion is due to a fat deposit of 1.2 in that help them keep their body temperature and the layers of rigid waterproof feathers that assist them to stay dry and warm. Otherwise, they could not survive in the freezing conditions of the Antarctica.
Among all 17 species, the Emperor is the largest penguin.
The emperor penguin has orange or yellow areas on both sides of the head that become lighter as they go down to the chest area. The rest of its head and face are completely black, and its beak is black, long and curved downward with a soft pink or orange color stripe on each side. The outer face of its flippers is black, but the inside is white. Its legs are thick, dark, robust and equipped with large claws. The back is black, and the front is white from the legs to the belly blending into a light yellow when reaching the upper part of the chest.
The chicks are visibly different. The first plumage that covers their entire body is gray, but they are white and black on their face. The white area of their face is around the eyes and the bottom of the beak; the rest of the head is black. They do not have the striking yellow and orange blends that adults have.
Where do they live?
Emperor penguins inhabit only the Antarctic continent; therefore their habitat is exclusively massive icebergs, ice cliffs, and cold seas. There are approximately 46 colonies distributed around the Antarctica. Six colonies are made up of 60,000 breeding pairs, and they are located west of the Ross Sea, in places such as Cape Crozier, Cape Roget, Cape Washington, Coulman Island and Beaufort Island, among others.
Emperor penguins can dive to a depth of 1800 feet.
Despite their large size, emperor penguins can dive to a depth of 1800 feet and stay submerged for up to 18 minutes. They can withstand winds up to 112 mph and temperatures of -80 Fahrenheit degrees in the harshest conditions of their habitat.
Emperor penguins have the ability to make sounds according to different situations. In a colony where thousands of individuals are vocalizing all at the same time, it is very challenging to find a mate, but they produce distinctive tones that their breeding pairs and even their offspring can identify.
They generate two types of sounds to communicate at different frequencies. The first is short and used for long distances, and the other is long and used when they are only a few meters away.
Distress calls consist of repetitive sounds and body movements such as beak lifting, stretching the neck and taking an aggressive posture.
The molting period lasts about 35 days, and during that time they cannot dive into the ocean. When they finally manage to discard all the plumage of birth, they are ready to hunt at sea and continue their life cycle.
What do they eat?
Fish, squid, and krill provide enough protein and nutrients that emperor penguins need to replenish their energy. During the breeding season, females go as far as 600 miles away from the mainland while males move away only half of that distance.
Sexual Maturity: 5 years females/5-6 years males
Incubation period: 63 days.
Normal clutch: One egg
The breeding season starts during the month of April when the march towards the nesting colonies, completely away from the coast, begins. At a walking pace of 1 mph usually, they arrive at their destination on the third day. Unlike other penguins, they don’t build nests nor fight over territory and rarely mate with the same partner of previous years.
Unlike other penguins, they don’t build nests.
One of the riskiest parts of their reproduction process is when the female has to transfer the egg to the male. This procedure has to be done very carefully because any fail in the process, any sudden or wrong movement could cause the egg to fall into the ice, freezing the egg within seconds and killing the offspring. Once the father has the egg and starts protecting it, the female returns to the sea to feed and returns to the colony almost after two months, but before the hatchling breaks the large and thick shell of its egg. The mothers keep part of the food they got in their stomach, which regurgitate to feed their newborn chick. If the female doesn’t arrive on time after birth, the father produces a whitish secretion that will feed the chick for a few days while they wait. Once the mother appears, the father finally goes back to the ocean for food after all that time.
Parents take turns six times, walking that distance, in search of food that their hungry chicks loudly request. After 140 days, the parents don’t return anymore, and the young penguins have to survive on their own.
Some females who have lost their hatchlings “steal” the chick of another couple or take an orphan and keep it for a few hours or days, leaving it later, which causes the chick to die either victim of predation or starvation. Scientists have not found any logical explanation for this behavior yet.
Adult emperors have few natural predators on land due to the hostile conditions of their habitat and their large size, but at nursery, age chicks do not have the same luck. Petrels and Antarctic skuas are two expert predators of eggs and chicks, causing a high mortality rate of up to 90%. Adults, though, are hunt by leopard seals and orcas when they return to the ocean.
In recent years, the melting of the ice platform that surrounds the Antarctic continent, as a result of the global warming, is another danger that emperor penguins are facing.
Emperor penguin range map
Salomon, David. Penguin-pedia, photographs and facts from one man’s search for the penguins pf the world. Brown Books. 2011.
BioExpedition Publishing © 2017.