Few animals are as recognizable and beloved as these feathered, flightless and famous celebrities of the South Pole.
Endemic to Antarctica, standing 4 ft (120 cm) tall and weighing 90 lbs (40 kg), Emperor Penguins are the largest of the 17 penguin species.
Emperor penguins can dive to depths of 1,850 ft (560 m) – deeper than any other bird – swim at speeds of up to 7 mph (11 kph) and can stay under for 20 minutes.
Emperor penguins live in one of the harshest, most inhospitable regions on the planet – Antarctica – where wind chills can reach -76°F (-59°C). To survive in these extreme conditions, emperor penguins will huddle together to escape the wind. Once a penguin has warmed up a bit, it will move to the outside of the group so others can have protection from the elements.
Breeding season usually begins in autumn (which in Antarctica is around April). The female lays a single egg and leaves it behind with the male. He carefully places the egg on his feet and under a special flap of skin known as a “brood pouch”. The female then journeys to the sea on a two month hunting trip looking for fish, squid and krill.
When she returns with a stomach full of food, she regurgitates it to feed the hungry chick. The male, who has not eaten anything in this time, goes to hunt for himself.
In December, the ice begins to break up, just in time for the chicks who are now old enough to take to the sea and hunt for themselves.
Penguins don’t have true wings like other birds, but rather flippers adapted for swimming. A gland near the base of the tail secretes an oil that is distributed throughout its feathers to help keep them waterproof.
Though often associated with cold weather, not all penguins like the snow. Just four species live in Antarctica, while most other penguins live in warmer or more temperate climates. But all penguins are native to the Southern Hemisphere, so you’ll probably never see a penguin in the North Pole!