5. Physical Description
The emperor penguin, or ptenodytes forsteri to use its binomial name, is the heaviest and tallest of the penguins. Both the male and female are identical in plumage and body size – growing to a height of 48 inches and weighing between 49 and 99 pounds. All penguins have a streamlined body and cannot fly. The streamlined bodies of emperor penguins are meant to aid swimming. Their tongues have rear-facing barbs to ensure that their prey cannot easily escape once caught. Their dark plumage changes to brown during the Antarctic summer. Molting is rather quick among this species, taking about 34 days.
Emperor penguins mainly dine upon fish, although they will make feasts out of other sea creatures, such as krill, cephalopods, and crustaceans, as well. While hunting, the species can spend nearly 20 minutes submerged to a depth of about 535 meters. The penguin species has peculiar adaptations that help it survive underwater for this many minutes. They include uniquely structured hemoglobin, solid bones for lowering barotraumas, the ability to shut down less essential functions of various body organs, and flattening of feathers prevent heat loss.
3. Habitat and Range
There are about 17–20 species of penguins, depending on which natural scientist you ask. The number of extinct species is undoubtedly an even more controversial debate yet. The total global population of Emperor penguins was 595,000 adult birds in 2009, and there were 46 colonies distributed across the Antarctic and Sub-Antarctic, with an estimated 35% living north of the Antarctic Circle. Unfortunately, the Emperor penguin has been moved from being a species of “least concern” to one with a “near-threatened” status by the International Union for Conservation of Nature in 2012. The main reasons for their declining population include climate change, reduced availability of food, and habitat destruction, as well as infection with diseases.
Emperor penguins do not have fixed nests as do most other birds. As such, they make vocal calls so as to identify their chicks and partners. Of all bird species, these penguins live in the coldest environments where temperatures get as low as −40 degrees celsius. As such, their feathers help them survive in these chilly surrounding by preventing loss of body heat. Also, their bodies are able to effective conduct thermoregulation, maintaining body temperature without interfering with other important metabolic processes.
Emperor penguins mate during the Antarctic winters. These penguins are known to trek for up to 120km looking for breeding colonies. The female lays a single egg that is mainly incubated by her male counterpart while she forages for food. The two parents take turns to care for the newly hatched chick. Although the typical lifespan of this penguin is 20 years in the wild, some individuals may live up to 50 years. The survival chances beyond birth of the average Emperor penguin have been estimated at 95%, with about 1% of them living up to 50 years.