The Emperor Penguin

Family of Emperor Penguins(1)

by. Danny New

Quick Facts:

  1. Type: Bird
  2. Diet: Carnivore
    Diagram of a fully mature Emperor Penguin(3)
  3. Average Lifespan: 20 years
  4. Average Weight: Up to 50-100 pounds
  5. Group Name: Colony
  6. Size Relative to a Man:
  7. compared.jpeg
    SIze of an Emperor Penguin relative to a man(2)
A. Forsteri


This image of the continent of Antarctica depicts the area that is covered by the Emperor Penguin. As you can see Antarctica is surrounded by ocean on all sides known as the southern ocean. The Emperor Penguin has a natural habitat of all the area that is covered in yellow. With many colonies of the bird spread around the continent the birds travel all sides of its land mass searching for food and safe territory to raise its young. The bird travels vast distances for these needs (20).
Map of the Emperor Penguin Range(4)


Three fully grown Emperor Penguins(5)


The Emperor Penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri) is the largest of all penguin species and is one of the two penguin species that inhabit the Antarctic Continent. The easily lovable and adorable Emperor Penguin, which has been recently exposed to the rest of the world thanks to the Disney Pixar movie “Happy Feet”, is easily recognizable. Their black head, blue-grey neck, orange ear patches and yellow breasts make their species easy to point out. The largest of all penguin species, the male and female are both very similar in size reaching around 4 feet tall and weighing anywhere from 50 to 100 pounds as an adult. Males and females are hard to distinguish apart until it is breeding season. With at least 200 colonies scattered around, there are perhaps 200,000 breeding pairs on the Antarctic continent (21). With a body that is perfectly engineered for Antarctic life the penguin is flightless on land but moves through water very torpedo like. Its wings are more of a flipper that propels it through water helping us understand why it’s Greek name is translated to “Without-Wings-Diver” (22). The Emperor penguin maybe best known probably for the long journeys the adults make each year during the breeding season, which for this particular species is during the Antarctic winter. The trek,better known as the “March of the Penguins”, a film produced by National Geographic, is very long up to 100 miles and may include thousands of individuals that trek in order to mate and feed their offspring.
Taking a peek through a scientists camera(6)


Mother feeding her chick(7)
The Emperor Penguin has a pretty simple diet consisting mostly of fish. It feeds on shoaling fish, which are fish that swim in schools, also feeding on squid and krill and any other small crustaceans. For the most part they feed on Antarctic Silverfish (23). They can dive up to 1000 feet deep and hold their breath for 20 minutes while they hunt for food. They search for their food in the open waters of the Southern Ocean or cracks in pack ice that act as traps for the penguins prey. A common hunting technique used by them is to push the fish up towards the surface under pack ice trapping them against it (24). This usually takes place at around 50 meters or 165 feet under water. They do this around 12 times to get their fill, the penguins may or may not work together to trap the fish against the ice, but there are usually a large amount of them hunting the fish at once and it creates a feeding frenzy. To help hold the food in its mouth the Emperor penguin is equipped with rear facing barbs on its tongue to hold on to its prey when caught.
Penguin being fed in a zoo(9)


An Orca catching a meal(8)

The Emperor Penguins predators include both birds and aquatic mammals. The Southern Giant Petrel and the South Polar Skua are both birds of prey that threaten the Emperor penguins chicks combining for 34% of chick deaths (25). These birds also scavenge the grounds for dead chicks. The threat in the water are Leopard Seals and Orcas. Leopard seals take both adult birds and fledglings when they take the water for the first time. Orcas or Killer Whales take adult birds. An interesting fact about Emperor penguins is that if one of the breeding pairs dies or is killed during the breeding season the partner will abandon the egg and go back to the open ocean to feed (25). This takes place because the breeding season is very complex and takes both adult birds trek to the water and then feed the chick once hatched, without a partner the chick will die.

Staying Warm in the Arctic:

Leaning on heels and stiff tail feathers to stay warm(10)

The Emperor Penguin does a couple of things real well to stay warm in the frigid cold of the arctic. Physics tells us that the larger the animal the smaller the surface area. Therefore being big means being warmer. The Emperor penguin is a big bird standing around 4 feet tall and weighing around 100 pounds, this proves how thick the bird is looking as if it is bundled up nice and warm. Next the Emperor penguin is wrapped up very warm. They have feathers, which work on land but in the water the fat layer is the best for of insulation and ultimately the best way to keep warm in water (26). The sub-coetaneous layer of fat is the layer under the skin that is up to an inch and half thick. It is the fat layer that protects them in the water. Penguin feathers are not like other bird feathers where they are large and flat. They are short with a layer of woolly down and are extremely effective at shedding water when the penguins exit the water. Penguin feathers are dense almost having 100 feathers per square inch (26). They overlap many times creating a good streamline effect in the water and wind-shedding abilities when on land. When it gets very cold they have the ability to puff out their feathers to trap air for even better insulation. The only two areas where their body is poorly insulated and where they can lose heat are in their flippers and their feet (26). The solution that is engineered so perfectly for them is very unique. The muscles that operate to move the feet are actually further up in the body to keep warm because they use a lot of blood flow. These muscles that control the feet are actually tendons that do not require very much blood flow. It is almost as if they were controlled by a wire or pulley. No matter how cold the temperature is, the feet can still be operated (26). Penguins have a heat-exchange blood-flow to these regions. The warm blood entering the feet or flippers flows past cold blood leaving so warming it up in the process and cooling the blood entering at the same time. Blood in these parts is significantly colder than in the rest of the body (26). By the time the blood re-enters the rest of the body it has been warmed up and so doesn't have so great an effect on the core body temperature. However, penguin feet are never allowed to get below freezing point, when it becomes very cold then the penguin puts its feathers over the feet to keep them warm.
Penguins Huddling to keep Warm(11)

Another amazing thing that they do to keep warm is they use each others body heat. They hang around in gangs and huddle together (26). This keeps the body heat of the animal circulating from one to another.
The way they cycle spots from outside of the circle to the inner part of the circle is like a whirlpool where everyone gets a chance to be warm. And one final interesting fact is that they are able to recapture 80% of the heat that is lost through their breathing.

A Most Unique Breeding Cycle:

Size of Emperor Penguin Egg(12)

The Breeding season for Emperor Penguins is during the Arctic winter and coordinated with the forming and break up of sea ice. The breeding season is perfectly coordinated so that the chicks are able mature enough to leave their nests at the start of the summer when food is plentiful (27). The breeding cycle starts with pairs meeting up in large colonies where they penguins begin to court or find their mate, then actually mate, and finally prepare for the egg to be laid and incubated. When it is time to incubate the egg the males do the incubating. A very steady passing of the egg occurs between the female and the male. The female drops the egg to her feet then has to pass it to the male without it touching the ice because it will instantly freeze. Once the egg is on the males feet he stands cradling it their with his fat layer over it incubating it for the next 115 days (28). The males during this incubation period are fasting while the mothers go straight to the open ocean to eat and gather enough food to bring back for her and her soon to be born chick. The hatching of the egg takes 2-3 days since the egg shell is so thick (27). Once the chick is hatched and the mother has returned to feed it, the male, female, and chick emperors now act as a family and they create a very important and unique creche or a sound that they use to recognize one another (27). Once the chicks downy is lost and its feathers grow in then it is able to take to the water to hunt for its own food. If mothers lose a chick once it has hatched, it will try stealing another chick, creating a new creche and keep the new chick for its own.

Ability to Dive:

Emperor Penguin swimming in open waters(13)
Emperor Penguins are fantastic swimmers and divers and often taken advantage of the open waters to swim and catch food. They name they are given is "Without-Wings-Diver" is a perfect name. Penguins move through water flapping their wings and twisting ad turning left, right, up, down, and any which way just as a bird of flight does in the air. These penguins are built like torpedos when they are in their swimming stature. With their increased ability to store oxygen in their body and the ability to tolerate extremely low levels of oxygen in their body make them a perfectly engineered hunting machine in open waters (20). They are also able to fluctuate their heart rate during deep dives which aids the ability to only use the least amount of oxygen that is still being cycled through their blood. The solid bones of a penguin differ from the hollow bones of a bird of flight. One reason is because hollow bones during low dives could crack from increasing air pressure also known as the "Bends". Another reason why the bones are not hollow is for the simple fact that the density allows them to go deeper faster. These penguins are able to hold their breath for 22 minutes before returning to land for another big gasp of air (20).
Plunging in through a crack in the ice(14)

Vocalization and Communication:

Young Emperor Penguins(15)
Emperor Penguins have unique vocal calls called crèche's which are used by the female, male, and chicks to locate each other in the enormous communities they form (21). The vocal calls are unique in the sense that each family has there own sound. The call is mainly for identification purposes. Other calls involve the male during mating season. The call that usually attracts the female to reproduce with the male is often the same call that is used for the newborn chick. Newborn penguins have two frequencies that make up their vocal calls (21). One is strictly for identification and one is strictly for feeding purposes. Chicks use a whistle sound to beg for food. Penguins also use their head nods and flippers to communicate through a sign language that the species uses.

Penguins on the Move:

Group of penguins marching to open waters to feed(16)
Recently a young Emperor Penguin turned up on a beach in New Zealand. From Antarctica the penguin is said to maybe have taken a wrong turn while diving off of the coast for food (29). Swimming to New Zealand is not a short distance by any means but even though landing far away from home the penguin was in good hands. There a number of zoo's in New Zealand that have Emperor Penguins on display, which was a fair place for the runaway penguin to hangout while plans to deliver it back to Antarctica were in motion. However, the sight was very rare, it was the first sighting of a penguin swimming up on a New Zealand beach in 44 years (29).

Conservation Status:

A sign reading "Hands off Antarctica" conservation purposes(17)
Emperor Penguins are actually in pretty good standing amongst species and their general state of being safe in the world. They are listed as a least concern to being in any trouble as a species. The species is highly sensitive to climate change. Penguins are specifically built for extreme cold. When there is a temperature rise it literally rustles their feathers. Meaning that when the temperature gets too hot penguins act differently because they become very agitated and uncomfortable.
Chicks playing in their communities of penguins(18)

The main effect that will eventually wipe out this species is the change in climate mostly referring to global warming.

Overfishing is a huge problem because the penguins are having to swim further and further offshore to find food that is usually closer to land.

An interesting fact that is hurting the species is helicopter noises. The sound of the helicopter is actually having an effect on baby penguins and possibly scaring them or confusing them to where they no longer can remember their unique creche (21). Causing many young Emperor Penguins to wonder around lost.


Pictures, Diagrams, Videos, and other Images:

  1. "Emperor Penguin: The World's Greatest Survivor" from VOA." Listen and Read. Web. 29 Nov. 2011.
  2. "Emperor Penguin « Big Animals." World’s Biggest Animals « Big Animals. Web. 29 Nov. 2011.
  4. "Emperor Penguins, Emperor Penguin Pictures, Emperor Penguin Facts - National Geographic." Animals, Animal Pictures, Wild Animal Facts - National Geographic. Web. 29 Nov. 2011.
  5. "95% of Emperor Penguins Could Be Dead by 2100 Because of Climate Change: New Report." TreeHugger. Web. 29 Nov. 2011.
  7. "Emperor Penguins." Photovolcanica: Volcano, Penguin Photos and Information. Web. 29 Nov. 2011.
  8. "Don't Mess With The Whales." Grassroots Innovation. Web. 29 Nov. 2011.
  9. Topping, Alexandra. "Lost Emperor 'Happy Feet' Must Swim Home from New Zealand | World News | The Guardian." Latest News, Sport and Comment from the Guardian | The Guardian. Web. 29 Nov. 2011.
  11. "ARKive - Emperor Penguin Photo - Aptenodytes Forsteri - G57959." ARKive - Discover the World's Most Endangered Species. Web. 29 Nov. 2011.
  12. "Emperor Penguin." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 29 Nov. 2011.
  14. "Emperor Penguins Diving under Ice." Cool Antarctica, Pictures of Antarctica, Information and Travel Guide. Web. 29 Nov. 2011.
  15. "The Penguin FAQ." Guillaume Dargaud's Website. Web. 29 Nov. 2011.
  16. "Emperor Penguins - Walk in Line. Ardea - Wildlife Pets Environment, Penguins. Ardea - Wildlife Pets Environment." Ardea - Wildlife Pets Environment. Web. 29 Nov. 2011.
  17. "Emperor Penguin | Greenpeace International." Greenpeace | Greenpeace. Web. 29 Nov. 2011.
  18. "Emperor Penguins." Photovolcanica: Volcano, Penguin Photos and Information. Web. 29 Nov. 2011.
  19. "Emperor Penguins in Antarctica - BBC Planet Earth - YouTube." YouTube - Broadcast Yourself. Web. 29 Nov. 2011.

Text References:

20."Emperor Penguins, Emperor Penguin Pictures, Emperor Penguin Facts - National Geographic." Animals - Animal Pictures - Wild Animal Facts - Nat Geo Wild - National Geographic. Web. 29 Nov. 2011.
21. "The Emperor Penguin : Aptenodytes Forsteri." The Emperor Penguin : Aptenodytes Forsteri. Web. 29 Nov. 2011.

22. "Emperor Penguin." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 29 Nov. 2011.
23. "Emperor Penguin." Penguin Facts, Emperor Penguins, Adelie Penguins, King Penguins. Web. 29 Nov. 2011.
24. "Emperor Penguins." Photovolcanica: Volcano, Penguin Photos and Information. Web. 29 Nov. 2011.
25. "Emperor Penguins Predators." AC Tropical Fish & Aquarium. Web. 29 Nov. 2011.
26. "How Penguins Survive the Cold." Cool Antarctica. Web. 29 Nov. 2011.
27. "OceanLink | Biodiversity - Emperor Penguin." OceanLink | Marine Sciences Education and Fun. Web. 29 Nov. 2011.
28. "Emperor Penguin." The Animal Files. Web. 29 Nov. 2011.
29. "BBC News - Emperor Penguin from Antarctic Visits New Zealand Beach." BBC - Homepage. Web. 29 Nov. 2011.