The emperor penguin is the biggest of all penguin species – it stands around 120 cm tall and weighs up to 45 kg. Its body and way of life are very well adapted to the extreme cold weather in Antarctica where its habitat is. This extraordinary bird is covered in feathers but also has an insulating layer of fat which helps keeping it warm. Its back and head are black and its belly – white and the ear area – yellow. When the babies are hatched, they are covered in greyish down. Penguins can not fly but the shape of their body is excellent for diving and their wings serve as flappers to propel them in the water.
Emperor penguins form breeding colonies – they stay together when they nest but also when they go foraging. Each colony consists of thousands of birds. This is an efficient way to survive not only the freezing temperatures but also to escape the marine predators. The emperor penguins breed in the Antarctic winter. The colony choses a place which can be up to 120 km away from the source of food – the ocean. The female emperor penguin lays a single egg a year. Then she carefully transfers it to the male penguin. He keeps the egg in a special pouch for 64 days until it is ready to hatch. This gives the mother the opportunity to go search for food. A baby penguin is called a chick. If the chick is hatched before the mother returns, the father feeds it with baby milk, produced by a gland in his food pipe. Once the mother has returned, she feeds the chick with fish she keeps in her stomach.Then it is the father’s turn to go foraging. Until the chick is 45-50 days old, one of the parents stays with it in order to protect it and keep it warm. Each couple cares only for its own chick. In a colony consisting of thousands of penguins, the female emperor penguin has found a brilliant way of identifying her family. They form a line and begin to ‘call’ their mate. Each penguin has its individual tones which help the parents recognise each other!!
When both parents go fishing, the chicks snuggle together.This way they remain warm and also protect themselves from the petrel – a large seabird which is their most dangerous predator on land. In the water the biggest threat to the adult penguins is the leopard seals and the killer whales.
The emperor penguins eat fish, crustaceans and squid. They can walk with their specific wobble with a speed of 3km/h and they also slide over the ice on their belly!!
Unfortunately, global warming has a significant effect on the emperor penguins. They lose their habitat due to the melting ice and experience shortage of food due to the pollution of the ocean.