The Emperor Penguin is most noted for its size, reaching up to four feet in height, making it the tallest penguin of its species. Its stomach is white and its wings and back are black, lending its trademark “tuxedo look.” Although penguins have wings they do not fly, but swim through the water at an average speed of four to six miles per hour, with possible bursts of up to twelve miles per hour. Although water mixed with cold temperatures causes humans to experience hypothermia and even death, penguins have a preen gland which secretes an oil that they use to coat their feathers with so water will run off of them.
Emperor Penguins live in the coldest region of any other penguin on earth. They not only survive, but reproduce and thrive where other penguins cannot. Adult Emperor Penguins travel about sixty miles into Antarctica for breeding season. Although cold temperatures are a threat to the survival of other penguins and their eggs, the Emperor Penguin has characteristics that allow them to keep warm, notwithstanding below freezing temperatures and high winds.
After searching for a mate, the female lays a single egg in the months of May or June. After laying the egg, the female will carefully pass the egg to the male to incubate until it hatches. This process is carefully executed so the egg does not have any contact with the ice where it would immediately die voiding the couple’s attempt at reproduction that year. When the male successfully receives the egg he incubates it above his feet in a flap of skin called a brood pouch. In order to stay warm in the extreme temperatures, Emperor Penguins form large groups and huddle together. They instinctively know when to move from the center of this huddle toward the outer edges to give each penguin the warmth of the middle. This process allows for them to survive the brutal temperatures in the Antarctic.
After the male has the egg, the female is free to travel to get food. She returns after about two months. After her arrival she is able to regurgitate the food for the young chick when it hatches. If the chick is born before the female returns, the male is able to produce a milky substance from his esophagus to keep his young alive. When the female returns to care for her young, the male is then free to go in search of food.
While it may seem unnatural for a species to reproduce in such extreme weather conditions, in actuality winter is the ideal season for reproduction because there is less competition for food. Emperor Penguin chicks are larger than other penguin species and an adequate diet is essential for their survival. Only in the harsh days of winter is there enough food for them. Emperor Penguins diet consists mainly of cephlapods, such as octopus and squid, but they also eat krill and fish. Their threat for survival is not only freezing in the cold temperatures, but also natural predators such as sea lions, Orca Whales and sharks. Although global warming has raised concerns for Emperor Penguins, there is thought to be an estimated 350,000 of them in the world.
Survival in Antarctica seems impossible, yet the Emperor Penguin continues to thrive in these freezing temperatures. Their physical characteristics, instincts and socialization allow for them to continue to reproduce and thrive in a climate that would otherwise be deadly.