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The Emperor Penguin

The Emperor Penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri) is the largest of all penguins. Emperor Penguins mainly eat crustaceans (such as krills), squid, etc) but also indulge in consuming small fish. In the wild, Emperor Penguins typically have lived up to 20 years, but some records indicate a maximum life-span of around 40 years. (Note that the King Penguin is a different species, and the Royal Penguin is a subspecies of the Rockhopper Penguin.)

Behaviors of Emperor Penguins
In order to find food, these penguins need to dive 150 to 250 metres into the Southern Ocean. The penguins can venture down deeper, the deepest diving on record being 565 metres. The longest they can hold their breath when underwater is 20 minutes. Their swimming speed is 6 to 9 km per hour.

In response to the cold, emperor penguins will stand in a compact huddle, whether in a group of ten or many hundreds of birds, each one leaning forward on a neighbor. Those on the outside tend to face inward and push slowly forward. This produces a slow churning action, giving each bird a turn on the inside.

Physical Characteristics of the Emperor Penguin
Adults average about 1.1 metres (4 ft) and weigh 30 kilograms (75 lb) or more.

Like the King Penguin counterpart, a male Emperor Penguin has an abdominal fold, the "brood pouch", between its legs and lower abdomen.

The head and wings are black, the abdomen white, black bluish grey, bill purplish pink. On the sides of the neck, there are two golden circular stripes.

Baby Emperor penguins are covered with a thick layer of light gray down, not shiny like the plumage of the adults but opaque and wooly. This covering ensures that they absorb as much heat as possible, vital at this early stage when they are not capable of maintaining their body temperature.

A distinguishing character between male and female is their call.

Reproduction and Breeding
Emperor penguins travel about 90 km inland to reach the breeding site. March or April, the penguins start courtship, when the temperature can be as low as -40 degrees. In May or June, the female penguin lays one 450-gram egg, but at this point her nutritional reserves are exhausted and she must immediately return to the sea to feed. Very carefully, she transfers the egg to the male penguin, who will incubate the egg in its brood pouch for about 65 days consecutively without food by surviving on his fat reserves and spending the majority of the time sleeping to conserve energy. To survive the cold and wind (up to 200 km per hour), the males huddle together, taking turns in the middle of the huddle. If the chick hatches before the mother's return, the father will sit the chick on his feet and cover with it with his pouch, feeding it a white milky substance produced by a gland in his esophagus. After about two months, the female returns. She finds her mate among the hundreds of fathers via his call and takes over caring the chick, feeding it by regurgitating the food she has stored in her stomach. The male then leaves to take his turn at sea. After another few weeks, the male returns and both parents tend to the chick by keeping it off the ice and feeding it food from their stomachs. About two months after hatching, the chicks huddle in a crèche for warmth and protection, still fed by their parents.

Scientific classification of the Emperor Penguin

> Kingdom: Animalia
> Phylum: Chordata
> Class: Aves
> Order: Sphenisciformes
> Family: Spheniscidae
> Genus: Aptenodytes
> Species: A. forsteri

Other Information

  • Emperor penguins are monogamous, though not in the way that humans consider monogamy. They have only one mate each year, and keep faithfully to that one other penguin, but each year, they choose different mates.
  • In early and mid-20th century, the penguins were hunted for their fat.
  • In the wild, Penguin predators include Leopard seals, orca, skua, and sharks.
  • In 2005, the Emperor Penguin was featured in the documentary, The March of the Penguins.
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This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.


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