About Emperor Penguins
The emperor penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri) is the largest of
the penguin species, standing 1.15m tall and weighing 23 to 40kg. Its
distinctive yellow markings and bright orange bill easily distinguishes the
penguin from other species.
Penguins are found in Antarctica and breed in ancestral
areas called colonies, which can contain a few hundred or more than 20,000
pairs. Colonies are located on fast ice (frozen sea) situated between islands
or grounded icebergs.
Emperor penguins are capable of diving for extensive periods, making them excellent hunters.
They dive up to 250m deep and can stay under water for three to six minutes at a time as they chase fish, krill and
They generally prefer small prey because it will be extremely cold when swallowed, making it
easier to heat to body temperature and digest.
An Emperor penguin's diet changes according to the season but, generally, they feed on
small-to-medium-sized prey of up to about 20cm long. Penguins gorge on krill (a small crustacean), which is a
plentiful food source in summer and spring and a staple for many whale species. When required, Emperor penguins can
dive deeper than usual for fish and squid or other bottom-dwelling species if the sea floor is not outside their
Emperor penguins travel 90km inland to their breeding sites, walking in a single line or sliding
over the ice on their bellies.
Emperor penguins are the only animal to breed during the Antarctic winter. When they arrive at
the breeding site, males and females "sing" to attract a mate, memorizing their mate's unique song.
The female lays one 450g egg, deftly sliding it on to her feet to transfer the egg to the male's
brood pouch an abdominal fold of skin between the legs and stomach.
The female returns to the sea to feed, while the male incubates the egg for about 65 days,
surviving on his fat reserves.
The egg is quite small in comparison to the female penguin, and the male must balance it on his
feet and cover it with a special brood pouch. If the egg touches the ice it will freeze and the chick will die.
During courtship and incubation the male does not eat for about four months. After hatching, it
is the female's turn to protect the chick while the male leaves the colony to eat. The chick must remain protected
on its parents' feet for another 50 days before it can walk on the ice.
The Emperor penguin's first line of defense is layers of overlapping, waterproof feathers.
Surprisingly, the penguin's triple-layered plumage resembling scales more than feathers is only 12mm thick. A layer
of fat under the skin provides the remaining one-third of the animal's insulation requirements.