35+ Interesting Facts About Emperor Penguins

  1. Emperor penguins are the largest living species of penguins. Males are slightly larger than females having 1.3 meters (51 inches) in height and up to 45 kg (99 lbs) in weight. (Source)
  2. Emperor and Adelie are the only two penguin species having a permanent presence on the Antarctic continent. Few other species breed on the Antarctic Peninsula or subantarctic islands.
  3. Emperor penguins are carnivores and have to feed in the open ocean due to the absence of suitable food on the Antarctic ice. Their diet includes fish, krill, and squid.
  4. The emperor penguin is the world’s deepest-diving bird. The deepest dive, 564 meters (1,850 feet), was recorded in 2006. However, most of their dives are less than 400 meters (1,312 feet). They can remain underwater for more than 20 minutes, while the maximum time was 32.2 minutes, recorded in 2018. (Source)
  5. There are several factors behind deep dives of emperor penguins. Their heart rate reduces during a dive to five beats per minute to lower oxygen consumption. Hemoglobin in penguins’ RBC also allows these animals to utilize every molecule of oxygen. A particular enzyme in their muscles enables them to operate without oxygen.
  6. Emperor penguins have four layers of feathers to withstand a chilly cold environment. The outer layers are smooth and waterproof that cover the inner insulating feathers. Their body also contains a thick layer of blubber that protects against cold.
  7. There is a misconception that emperor penguins have a feather density of around 15 per square cm, the highest among birds. However, their feather density is nine feathers per square cm. These birds insulate their body and repel water with four layers of feathers: tail feathers, afterfeathers, plumes, and filoplumes. (Source)
  8. According to estimates, up to 175,000 breeding pairs of emperor penguins live in around 40 colonies. Many of these colonies contain thousands of penguins.
  9. Emperor penguin pairs and their chicks find each other in a colony through their unique calls. Their calls have a two-voice system that includes an identity code. (Source
    Adults and chicks in an emperor penguin colony
    Emperor penguins find each other using their unique calls

  10. Emperor penguins are the only penguin species that breed on sea ice. Their colonies are visible from satellites through guano patches. So far, 61 such settlements have been discovered. In 2020, satellite images found eleven colonies, including two far from the coast over a grounded iceberg for the first time. (Source)
  11. Emperor penguins are the only penguin species that breed during Antarctic winter. During this season, they face temperatures below -50C and winds around 300 km/h.
  12. Emperor penguins minimize heat loss and recycle their body heat by keeping the temperature of the plumage (covering their bodies) lower than the air temperature. Only the temperature of their feet, eyes, and beaks is higher than the temperature of their surroundings. (Source)
  13. The muscle tissue of an adult penguin can store 12 times more oxygen than a chick’s muscle. However, the chicks develop the ability to deep dives soon after starting this process following their initial summer. The reason behind achieving this skill abruptly is unknown.
  14. The breeding season in emperor penguins starts in late March or early April. The female lays a single egg after nearly two months. Apart from emperor and king penguins, other penguin species lay more than one egg.
  15. After laying the egg, the female hands it over to the male for incubation and moves towards the sea for feeding. The incubation period lasts more than 60 days, the longest among penguins.
  16. The male solely cares for the egg during incubation. It is dissimilar to other penguin species, where males and females share the incubation period.
  17. The male emperor penguin has to protect the egg from freezing temperatures and gusts of winds throughout the incubation period. The male penguin does not eat anything for two months and uses its store of body fat for survival. The female returns after incubation and relieves the male, who goes for feeding.
  18. The male and female penguin protects the egg and chick under their brood pouches (feathered skin). Without this protection, the chick can die in a few minutes under the harsh climate.
  19. Male emperor penguins are one of the few birds that produce crop milk. They deliver this milk to chicks for some days before the arrival of females. Later, females and males feed chicks with regurgitated food.
  20. Emperor and Adelie penguins have good day and night vision. However, they prefer hunting during the daytime to avoid their predators (leopard seals and orcas) at night. They also plan their migration according to the activities of these predators. (Source)
  21. The closest relatives of emperor penguins are king penguins. Apart from the difference in size (emperors are larger and heavier), king penguins have larger flippers per body size and different colors of ear patches.
  22. Emperor penguins are one of the two marine birds (along with king penguins) that can reflect UV light from their beaks. (Source)
  23. Emperor penguins were initially sighted during the 18th Century. However, experts recognized them as a separate species in 1844. Their first breeding colony was discovered later, in 1902.
  24. The emperor penguin is the 6th heaviest bird, behind only the birds of the ostrich family. These include the common ostrich, Somali ostrich, southern cassowary, northern cassowary, and emu.
  25. Emperor penguin chicks have the lowest survival rate among penguins. Nearly 90% of chicks die within the first year due to cold weather, predators, and starvation.
  26. In October 2022, the USA declared emperor penguins a threatened species due to climate change. The rise in global temperatures can cause the extinction of these penguins in the future due to the loss of sea ice. (Source)
  27. The first evidence of emperor penguins losing a colony appeared in 2009. There were nearly 150 breeding pairs in this small colony, initially sighted in 1948 on Emperor Island. (Source
    Emperor penguins in a colony
    Emperor penguins have lost some colonies due to climate change

  28. The world’s second-largest emperor penguin colony (Halley Bay colony) vanished in 2019 after suffering from storms for three consecutive years (2016-2018). These storms destroyed sea ice and drowned thousands of chicks. The remaining breeding pairs moved to a nearby emperor penguin colony. (Source)
  29. Emperor penguins are one of the most affected penguins by climate change due to their reliance on the ice sheet (fast ice) for breeding and food. According to estimates, the population of emperor penguins can decline by 50% if the global temperature rises above 2 degrees Celsius compared to the pre-industrial level.
  30. Emperor penguins work in groups to withstand the low temperatures and fast winds. Members of the group change positions continuously from warmer inside to colder outside the huddle and vice versa. This technique keeps all the members warm most of the time.
  31. Emperor penguins have very few predators due to their large size and remote location. These include giant fulmars, Antarctic giant petrels, killer whales, and leopard seals.
  32. Emperor penguins’ defensive mechanism includes speed and camouflage. They can swim at 9.3 mph, while their black feathers and white underbelly conceal them in water from predators present above and below the penguins.
  33. Penguins are monogamous for a season. Only 15% of the birds find their previous mate next season due to large colonies and the absence of a nest. Others start a new relationship.
  34. Female emperor penguins can steal or kidnap juveniles of other penguins after losing their chick. The reason behind this behavior is the high level of prolactin (PRL) hormone in their bodies. (Source)
  35. Emperor penguins are social animals. They are the only non-territorial species of penguins.
  36. The average lifespan of emperor penguins is up to 20 years. However, some penguins can live for 40 years or more.

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