Emperor penguins are a species of penguin that live in the Antarctic. They are easily recognized by their black and white coloring, and they are the tallest species of penguin.
The emperor penguin life cycle is a fascinating example of the adaptability of this species. Emperor penguins have to contend with some of the harshest conditions on Earth, yet they have managed to thrive in this environment for millennia.
Emperor penguins breed annually during the antarctic winter, May through to August.
Emperor Penguins are social animals, both foraging and nesting in groups. In severe weather the penguins huddle together for protection. They may be active day or night.
Sexually mature adults travel throughout most of the year between the nesting area and foraging areas in the ocean.
From January to March, Emperor Penguins disperse into the oceans, traveling and foraging in groups.
Emperor penguins establish loose breeding colonies on the pack ice surrounding the Antarctic continent. The area where penguins mate, nest and raise their chicks is called a ‘rookery’.
In May, female Emperors will lay a single egg after a 63 day gestation period, and then will pass the egg over to her mate while she goes off to sea to feed.
In Emperor penguins the egg is rather pear-shaped, with one end tapering almost to a point.
Male Emperor Penguins will be unable to eat during the ensuing 9 week incubation period. Instead, he must keep his egg warm by balancing it on his feet, where it is insulated by a thick roll of skin and feathers called the ‘brood pouch’.
Penguins stand upright while incubating a single egg on the tops of their feet under a loose fold of abdominal skin.
The brood pouch contains numerous blood vessels, that, when engorged with blood, transfer body heat to the eggs.
For added warmth and protection against the bitter winds and sub-zero temperatures, the male Emperor Penguins huddle together in tight bunches.
After the eggs have hatched, young chicks will remain in the ‘brood pouch’ for a short time until they are able to regulate their own body temperatures.
By the time the female returns to take over feeding the chick, the male will have lost up to a third of his body weight. He must now make another long trek over the ice, up to 60 miles to find food.
Male Emperor penguins exhibit a feature unique among penguins. If the chick hatches before the female returns, the male, despite his fasting, is able to produce and secrete a curd like substance from his oesophagus to feed the chick allowing for survival and growth for up to two weeks.
Both parents feed the chick regurgitated food. Adults recognize and feed only their own chicks.
A chick depends on its parents for survival between hatching and the growth of its waterproof feathers.
The chick grows rapidly, and by the time it is five months old, it is almost as big as its parents.
By January, as the sea-ice begins to break out, the chicks have lost most of their soft silvery-grey down and are now able to head out independently for the open sea.
The lifespan of an Emperor Penguin is typically 20 years in the wild, although observations suggest that some individuals may live to 50 years of age.
Emperor penguins are protected under the Antarctic Treaty, which prohibits mining and oil drilling in Antarctica.