A-z - Animals

Emperor penguins

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Living in and around the Antarctic continent, emperor penguins are not only the largest penguin species in the world, but also one of the most unique. Emperor penguins do not breed during the warm summer months like other penguin species, but lay and hatch their eggs during the coldest time of year in the coldest places on earth. Emperor penguins are flightless birds with small, stiff wings that help them navigate water rather than air. Although the first emperor penguin colony was first documented on Captain Cook's second voyage in the late 1700s, the first emperor penguin colony was not discovered until 1902, and the nature of its extreme southerly winds led to new colonies Still on record until 1986. Due to the fact that emperor penguins breed on ice, they are considered the only bird that spends its entire life without actually walking on land.

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anatomy and appearance

The emperor penguin is a huge bird that can stand more than one meter in height. Their plumage color varies from black on the back to white on the front, with a yellow patch on the neck. The black and white colors are thought to be especially important in camouflaging emperor penguins from predators in the ocean. They also have yellow ear spots and an orange-yellow band that runs along their black beaks, which are relatively small in size to retain heat. Their black, claw-like feet are also webbed, which helps them when swimming, but hardly when walking on land (emperor penguins glide on their belly). To keep warm in such harsh conditions, they have three layers of dense, greasy, and water-repellent feathers with a thick layer of blubber under their skin. They're also great swimmers, with streamlined bodies that glide through the water, propelled by their small, stiff wings.

Animal Facts: Penguins
Emperor penguins are heavy birds with layers of fat to protect them from colder climates.



The fossil record shows that the common ancestor of emperor penguins lived 40 million years ago and was about 5 feet tall. They are believed to have originated in Antarctica, which was then covered by forests, and connected to what would later be New Zealand, Australia, South America and the surrounding islands. The ancient ancestors of these penguins diverged from the ancestors of petrels and albatrosses about 71 million years ago.

The arrival of the Ice Age 35 million years ago brought brutal changes to the ancient ancestors of penguins. The continents of Australia and South America drift away from Antarctica, while ocean currents surround it. This cooler climate may have killed off the older penguins—making them compete for the same prey as the whales.

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While most ancient penguins are extinct, others, such as the macaroni penguin, swim to warmer waters in search of new lineages. Species such as the emperor penguin stayed in Antarctica and evolved adaptations for the cold environment.

Distribution and Habitat

animals of antarctica
Emperor penguins can travel up to 200 kilometers across the ice to reach their breeding grounds.

© Sergey 402/Shutterstock.com

Emperor penguins live in the deep south, inhabiting the compacted ice of the Antarctic continent and coast. After coming to land to breed, they can travel up to 200 kilometers across the ice to reach their breeding grounds before returning to the open sea to feed. Unlike many other penguin species that may visit the Antarctic continent from time to time, emperor penguins do not migrate north, but spend year-round in the depths of the Southern Ocean. However, emperor penguins are increasingly being affected by habitat loss in the form of global warming, which not only reduced the amount of ice packs around the continent, but also caused it to melt earlier this year.

Behavior and Lifestyle

King penguin swimming underwater
Penguins are excellent swimmers, able to "swim" to the surface for a quick breath of air.

© Jeff Kubina / Creative Commons

Emperor penguins are very sociable birds that live together in colonies that can house thousands of individuals. After finding a mate, emperor penguins are loyal to each other for life, and will find each other again by calling when they return to the breeding ground. They are excellent swimmers and have also been known to jump out of the water when they swim fast in the same manner as dolphins. Dubbed "The Dolphin," it allows emperor penguins to breathe without having to slow down. They have been known to dive to depths of over 500 meters, making them the deepest diving birds in the world, and can hold their breath for up to 20 minutes at a time. Typically traveling at 5 to 10 km/h but capable of swimming at 24 km/h, emperor penguins can travel up to 1,000 km on a single feeding trip.

Reproduction and Life Cycle

emperor penguin, penguin, antarctica, ice field, bird
Emperor penguins mate for life and raise their young together.

© iStock.com/Bernard Breton

Emperor penguins breed each year during winter, the coldest, darkest, and harshest month of the year in Antarctica. They start arriving at their breeding grounds miles from the ocean between March and April, and once they find a mate, the female lays an egg in May and June. The egg is quickly transferred to the male, who holds it on his feet to keep it from touching the frozen ground and covers it with a warm brood bag to keep the egg warm. The female emperor penguins then head to the open ocean to forage for a full two months, leaving the male emperor penguins to care for the eggs during the winter. With temperatures reaching -60C and winds gusting up to 100mph, male emperor penguins huddle together for warmth, alternating between the perimeter and the center to ensure all members of the colony stay warm. The eggs hatch after 70 days in the spring, at the same time as the females return to feed their young and keep them warm with the pouches on their stomachs, while the males head off to find food. After the meal, the males return to help care for the chicks, which grow rapidly, and by December when the ice melts and the ocean is closer to the breeding grounds, they will have grown their adult feathers.

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diet and prey

what do emperor penguins eat

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Emperor penguins are carnivorous animals that can only survive by preying on animals in the surrounding water. Emperor penguins mainly eat fish but also supplement with krill, other crustaceans and squid. Like other penguins, emperor penguins have pointed tongues that help them eat slippery fish. Emperor penguin chicks are not old enough or strong enough to hunt until the summer ice melts, so they rely on their parents to gather food for them. The male and female take turns leaving the chicks out to sea to find food, then return and feed the fast-growing chicks by spitting a fishy-smelling paste from their stomachs. Male emperor penguins eat nothing while their eggs incubate over the winter and may lose half their body weight when the chicks hatch two months later.

Predators and Threats

Leopard Seal Teeth - Leopard Seals
Leopard seals prey on emperor penguins.


Emperor penguins are preyed on by many large marine predators, but their exact predators vary by geographic location. However, despite inhabiting the southernmost and harshest landmass on Earth, emperor penguin chicks are vulnerable and preyed on by giant southern giant petrels, an animal thought to be responsible for more than 30% of emperor penguin deaths. chicken. Adult emperor penguins are preyed upon by leopard seals and killer whales, which also prey on young emperor penguins just learning to swim. Emperor penguins are also threatened by shrinking ice floes due to global warming and are sometimes caught in the nets of large commercial fishing vessels.

Interesting Facts and Features

kind of big bird
Emperor penguin parents take turns trekking to the ocean to find food for their chicks.

© robert mcgillivray/Shutterstock.com

When returning to the breeding grounds after spending the past few months foraging in the ocean, male and female partners use different calls to find each other. They are thought to have different frequencies, making it easier for them to find each other. The same goes for parents and chicks reunited after a fishing trip. Although emperor penguin chicks grow very quickly, they don't go into the water with their parents until November-December, but gather with other chicks in small colonies to keep warm. Not only do they face long treks to the open ocean before the ice melts further, but they also have to wait until they develop their thick, oily adult plumage to keep their young emperor penguins warm and waterproof.

relationship with humans

The first Arctic explorers were fascinated by penguins, thinking they were the missing link for early birds.

© Jerzy Strzelecki / Creative Commons

Penguins have been fascinated by explorers since they first really began venturing into the southernmost tip of the Southern Ocean and the Antarctic continent. In the early 20th century, scientists generally believed that emperor penguins were some sort of "missing link" in evolution, and while this theory has since collapsed, they are still believed to have evolved from the earliest and most primitive bird species on Earth planets. As technology improves and more people are able to visit emperor penguins in their natural habitat, emperor penguins are being studied more and more. They have also been hunted and eaten by humans in the past.

Protect the status quo and life today

Emperor penguins are the least vulnerable of the penguins.

© Galen Rowell – Public Domain

Today, emperor penguins are listed by the IUCN as a species of least concern for extinction in the wild in the near future. In fact, their southern-dwelling nature may mean they're the least vulnerable of the 18 different penguin species. There are thought to be around 200,000 breeding pairs of emperor penguins in the Southern Ocean, and while populations remain healthy and relatively stable, they are increasingly affected by rapidly melting ice and higher levels of human activity around Antarctica.

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about the author

Lisa Pace

After a career providing opportunities for local communities to experience and create art, I enjoy having time to write about two of my favorite things – nature and animals. I spend half my life outside, usually with my husband and adorable 14 year old puppy. We enjoyed walking around the lake and taking photos of the animals we encountered including: otters, osprey, Canada geese, ducks and nesting bald eagles. I also enjoy reading, discovering books to add to my library, collecting and playing vinyl records, and listening to my son's music.

Emperor Penguin FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Emperor Penguins vs King Penguins

The two largest penguins are the emperor penguin and the king penguin. The main difference between the two is that emperor penguins are larger and have more hooked beaks than king penguins.

Are emperor penguins herbivores, carnivores, or omnivores?

Emperor penguins are carnivores, which means they eat other animals.

To which kingdom do emperor penguins belong?

Emperor penguins belong to the animal kingdom.

What phylum do emperor penguins belong to?

Emperor penguins belong to the phylum Chordate.

Which category do emperor penguins belong to?

Emperor penguins belong to the class of birds.

What family do emperor penguins belong to?

Emperor penguins belong to the penguin family.

What order do emperor penguins belong to?

Emperor penguins belong to the butterfly order.

What genus do emperor penguins belong to?

Emperor penguins belong to the genus Aptenodytes.

What type of cover do emperor penguins have?

Emperor penguins are covered in feathers.

Where do emperor penguins live?

Emperor penguins live in Antarctica.

What type of habitat do emperor penguins live in?

Emperor penguins live in compact sea ice and oceans.

What are the natural enemies of emperor penguins?

Natural enemies of emperor penguins include southern giant petrels, leopard seals and killer whales.

What is the average egg size of an emperor penguin?

Emperor penguins usually lay 1 egg.

What interesting facts about emperor penguins?

Emperor penguins are the largest penguin species in the world!

What is the scientific name of the emperor penguin?

The scientific name of emperor penguins is Aptenodytes forsteri.

What is the lifespan of emperor penguins?

Emperor penguins can live for 15 to 50 years.

How many kinds of emperor penguins are there?

There is 1 species of emperor penguin.

What is the biggest threat to emperor penguins?

The biggest threat emperor penguins face is global warming.

What is the wingspan of an emperor penguin?

Emperor penguins have a wingspan of 76 cm to 89 cm (30 inches to 35 inches).

How many emperor penguins are left in the world?

There are 200,000 pairs of emperor penguins left in the world.

How does Emperor Penguin say in


Императорски пингвин




groin worm


groin worm




Chesarsky Plain

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  1. David Burnie, Dorling Kindersley (2011) Animals, The Definitive Visual Guide to the World's Wildlife
  2. Tom Jackson, Lorenz Books (2007) Encyclopedia of World Animals
  3. David Burney, Kingfisher (2011) The Animal Encyclopedia of Kingfishers
  4. Richard Mackay, University of California Press (2009) Atlas of Threatened Species
  5. David Burnie, Dorling Kindersley (2008) Illustrated Animal Encyclopedia
  6. Dorling Kindersley (2006) Dorling Kindersley Animal Encyclopedia
  7. Christopher Perrins, Oxford University Press (2009) Encyclopedia of Birds
  8. Emperor Penguin Facts, available here: http://www.coolantarctica.com/Antarctica%20fact%20file/wildlife/Penguin_royalty_King_and_Emperor_penguins.htm
  9. Emperor Penguin information, available here: http://www.penguins-world.com/emperor-penguin.html
  10. Emperor Penguin Conservation, available here: http://www.iucnredlist.org/apps/redlist/details/106003849/0