Its diet consists primarily of fish, but can also include crustaceans, such as krill, and cephalopods, such as squid. In hunting, the species can remain submerged up to 18 minutes, diving to a depth of 535 m (1,755 ft). It has several adaptations to facilitate this, including an unusually structured haemoglobinto allow it to function at low oxygen levels, solid bones to reduce barotrauma, and the ability to reduce its metabolism and shut down non-essential organ functions.
The only penguin species that breeds during the Antarctic winter, emperor penguins trek 50–120 km (31–75 mi) over the ice to breeding colonies which may include thousands of individuals. The female lays a single egg, which is incubated by the male while the female returns to the sea to feed; parents subsequently take turns foraging at sea and caring for their chick in the colony. The lifespan is typically 20 years in the wild, although observations suggest that some individuals may live to 50 years of age.
Adult emperor penguins stand up to 110–130 cm (43–51 in) tall. The weight ranges from 22.7 to 45.4 kg (50 to 100 lb) and varies by sex, with males weighing more than females. It is the fifth heaviest living bird species, after only the larger varieties of ratite. The weight also varies by season, as both male and female penguins lose substantial mass while raising hatchlings and incubating their egg. A male emperor penguin must withstand the Antarctic cold for more than two months to protect his egg from extreme cold. During this entire time he doesn't eat anything. Most male penguins will lose about 12 kg (26 lb) while they wait for their chicks to hatch. The mean weight of males at the start of the breeding season is 38 kg (84 lb) and that of females is 29.5 kg (65 lb). After the breeding season this drops to 23 kg (51 lb) for both sexes.
Like all penguin species, emperor penguins have streamlined bodies to minimize drag while swimming, and wings that are more like stiff, flat flippers. The tongue is equipped with rear-facing barbs to prevent prey from escaping when caught. Males and females are similar in size and colouration. The adult has deep black dorsal feathers, covering the head, chin, throat, back, dorsal part of the flippers, and tail. The black plumage is sharply delineated from the light-coloured plumage elsewhere. The underparts of the wings and belly are white, becoming pale yellow in the upper breast, while the ear patches are bright yellow. The upper mandible of the 8 cm (3 in) long bill is black, and the lower mandible can be pink, orange or lilac. In juveniles, the auricular patches, chin and throat are white, while its bill is black. Emperor penguin chicks are typically covered with silver-grey down and have black heads and white masks. A chick with all-white plumage was found in 2001, but was not considered to be an albino as it did not have pink eyes. Chicks weigh around 315 g (11 oz) after hatching, and fledgewhen they reach about 50% of adult weight.
The emperor penguin's dark plumage fades to brown from November until February (the Antarctic summer), before the yearly moult in January and February. Molting is rapid in this species compared with other birds, taking only around 34 days. Emperor penguin feathers emerge from the skin after they have grown to a third of their total length, and before old feathers are lost, to help reduce heat loss. New feathers then push out the old ones before finishing their growth.
The average yearly survival rate of emperor penguins has been measured at 95.1%, with an average life expectancy of 19.9 years. The same researchers estimated that 1% of emperor penguins hatched could feasibly reach an age of 50 years. In contrast, only 19% of chicks survive their first year of life. Therefore, 80% of the emperor penguin population comprises adults five years and older.
As the species has no fixed nest sites that individuals can use to locate their own partner or chick, emperor penguins must rely on vocal calls alone for identification. They use a complex set of calls that are critical to individual recognition between parents, offspring, and mates, displaying the widest variation in individual calls of all penguins. Vocalizing emperor penguins use two frequency bands simultaneously. Chicks use a frequency-modulated whistle to beg for food and to contact parents.
Adaptations to cold Edit
The emperor penguin breeds in the coldest environment of any bird species; air temperatures may reach −40 °C (−40 °F), and wind speeds may reach 144 km/h (89 mph). Water temperature is a frigid −1.8 °C (28.8 °F), which is much lower than the emperor penguin's average body temperature of 39 °C (102 °F). The species has adapted in several ways to counteract heat loss. Feathers provide 80–90% of its insulation, and it has a layer of sub-dermal fat which may be up to 3 cm (1.2 in) thick before breeding. This resultant blubber layer impedes the mobility of emperor penguins on land compared to their less fat-insulated cousins, the Magellanic penguins. While the density of contour feathers is approximately 9 per square centimetre, a combination of dense afterfeathers and down feathers (plumules) likely play a critical role for insulation. Muscles allow the feathers to be held erect on land, reducing heat loss by trapping a layer of air next to the skin. Conversely, the plumage is flattened in water, thus waterproofing the skin and the downy underlayer. Preening is vital in facilitating insulation and in keeping the plumage oily and water-repellent.
The emperor penguin is able to thermoregulate (maintain its core body temperature) without altering its metabolism, over a wide range of temperatures. Known as the thermoneutral range, this extends from −10 to 20 °C (14 to 68 °F). Below this temperature range, its metabolic rate increases significantly, although an individual can maintain its core temperature from 38.0 °C (100.4 °F) down to −47 °C (−53 °F). Movement by swimming, walking, and shivering are three mechanisms for increasing metabolism; a fourth process involves an increase in the breakdown of fats by enzymes, which is induced by the hormone glucagon. At temperatures above 20 °C (68 °F), an emperor penguin may become agitated as its body temperature and metabolic rate rise to increase heat loss. Raising its wings and exposing the undersides increases the exposure of its body surface to the air by 16%, facilitating further heat loss.
The emperor penguin's diet consists mainly of fish, crustaceans and cephalopods, although its composition varies from population to population. Fish are usually the most important food source, and the Antarctic silverfish (Pleuragramma antarcticum) makes up the bulk of the bird's diet. Other prey commonly recorded include other fish of the family Nototheniidae, the glacial squid(Psychroteuthis glacialis), and the hooked squid species Kondakovia longimana, as well as Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba). The emperor penguin searches for prey in the open water of the Southern Ocean, in either ice-free areas of open water or tidal cracks in pack ice. One of its feeding strategies is to dive to around 50 m (164 ft), where it can easily spot sympagic fish like the bald notothen (Pagothenia borchgrevinki) swimming against the bottom surface of the sea-ice; it swims up to the bottom of the ice and catches the fish. It then dives again and repeats the sequence about half a dozen times before surfacing to breathe.