Polar Season Factsheet No 4 of 5.
The Emperor Penguin
SPECIES AND HABITAT: There are 17 species of penguin in
total but only four of these breed on the Antarctic continent
itself. Of these, only one species, thanks to its amazing
endurance, is synonymous with the coldest place on earth:
the Emperor penguin. They withstand average winter
temperatures of minus 50 degrees centigrade and winds of
up to 112 miles per hour. They are the only penguins of
Antarctica to breed during the dark, freezing winter months.
BREEDING: In early April, while most of Antarctica’s wildlife is heading north to
Penguins have no knees, hence the
warmer climes, the Emperor begins its journey south to the breeding grounds. comical waddle!
The females lay their eggs in May and leave them in the care of the male The Emperor is less faithful than other
penguin breeds. Over three quarters of
colony while they head to the sea to fatten up. For nine long weeks the males
them find a new mate each year.
huddle together taking turns to hold the warmest positions at the centre of
Penguins only mate once a year – and
the colony. When the chick hatches, the male produces its first meal by even then it lasts for just 10 seconds.
regurgitating food stored in his gullet. During the Antarctic winter, a cup of
boiling water thrown into the air will
immediately freeze into a cloud of ice
crystals before it reaches the ground.
Timing is now critical. The females return to take over the feeding while the
The total population of Emperor
males - near starving, having lost up to one third of their body weight - make
penguins is thought to be about
the long trek to the sea for feeding. After August, the parents take turns 160,000 breeding pairs.
(about two weeks each) to rear the chicks. It is thought that all penguins have
evolved from petrel-like flying birds
which existed 50 million years ago.
The chicks venture out from the warmth and
safety of the mother’s pouch at about seven
weeks, but it is not until January when the
sea ice starts to break that they are able to
fend for themselves. In spring, the chicks Vital statistics
will take to the sea and not return to the WEIGHT: The Emperor penguin can
weigh up to 33 kilograms (83
breeding ground for a few years. pounds). Their size means they can
: Ice Worlds store enough fat to survive the fierce
Watch Planet Earth
on UK TV Documentary winter without feeding regularly.
HEIGHT: The Emperor stands 100 to
130 centimetres tall (40 to 50 inches).
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Polar Season Factsheet No. 4 of 5.
The Emperor Penguin (continued)
COMMUNICATION: Penguins have a large repertoire of flipper
waving, calling, bowing and preening skills. The parents locate
chicks by the sound of their individual call even among
thousands of other breeding pairs. In any colony there are
rth : Ice Wo
usually more females than males and while the male is busy
Watch Planet Ea
attracting a mate by puffing up his chest, waving his flippers and cumentary
on UKTV Do
‘braying’, the females squabble amongst themselves (typical!).
IN MOTION: The Emperor penguin can reach speeds of up to 60
kilometres per hour under water and averages six minutes at 100 Penguin tourism
metres for each dive. On returning to the surface, the Emperors The smallest of the penguin species
can be seen as they come ashore at
make a series of leaps known as porpoising, which enable them to
The Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony in
breathe and can help foil a predator. Their wings are not useless
appendages but highly evolved and sturdy flippers. On land
however they are not so adept; their awkward waddling gait is due
to their legs being set far down on their bodies. Often, as a break
from walking, they will ‘toboggan’ along on their bellies.
ENEMIES: The penguin has no enemies on land, although their
eggs and vulnerable chicks can fall prey to Skua gulls. Their main
water predators are sea lions, killer whales and leopard seals. In
turn, penguins feed on fish, squid and krill. They have little fear of
humans but their breeding grounds can be threatened or
destroyed by human interference, as was evidenced by the
building of the French airstrip Dumont d’Urville on the Adelie
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