Penguins are the general name for the flightless birds found in the Southern Hemisphere. There are many different species of penguins that come in a variety of sizes and live in many locations. Unless you travel to the Southern Hemisphere, you won’t see penguins in the wild. For most species, you have to go to Antarctica to see them in their natural habitats. In this post, we’ll focus on the emperor penguin, the largest of all penguins and that lives exclusively in Antarctica.
The emperor penguin grows to be nearly 4 feet tall and weighs up to 90 pounds. They live in large groups, known as colonies, that often have thousands of members in each colony. Overall, researchers estimate that there are a little more than 40 colonies in Antarctica with over half a million penguins. While that may sound like a lot of penguins, they’re still considered close to threatened.
Emperor penguins are flightless and possess flippers instead of wings. These adaptations assist them in maneuvering through the cold Arctic water in search of food, such as krill. If their size wasn’t enough to make emperor penguins easy to distinguish from other species, you can look for their markings, which are white bellies, black backs and wings, and yellow and orange coloring around their necks.
Life in Antarctica
In order to survive in the harsh climate, which can reach temperatures of -76 degrees Fahrenheit, emperor penguins have learned to work together and use their colonies to the best of their ability in order to survive. Since emperor penguins spend a large amount of time on the open ice, they huddle together for warmth and protection from the harsh winds. They’ll regularly change position in order for different birds to spend time closest to the center of the colony.
A distinguishing trait of emperor penguins is how they raise their young. Emperor penguins mate in the winter, then the females lay their eggs, give them to their mates, and leave for the oceans. For the next couple of months, male penguins keep their eggs warm on top of their feet, under a brood pouch. The males brave harsh conditions until the mothers return, bringing food to feed the newborn chick. Once the females come back, it’s the male penguins’ turns to go for food and leave the female penguins to look after the chicks. Eventually, the penguins leave their chicks in groups of chicks called creches so they can continue to go find food. By the time the chicks are about a year old, they’re ready to start fishing on their own.
While the numbers for emperor penguins are fairly stable, they’re still considered near threatened. One of the biggest threats to emperor penguins is the changing climate; as Antarctica and its waters warm up, their food becomes more limited and they sometimes have to travel further distances for sufficient amounts of sustenance. Emperor penguins are also consistently losing their habitat, which limits where they can live. Tourism has proved to be an issue for the colonies as well, which leads to more human interference at their breeding and living locations.
How to help
In order to help these incredible creatures, the best steps you can take are to raise awareness and donate to causes that support efforts to help the penguins out.