Emperor Penguins: Masters of the Ice

This is the 2nd post in my blog series on penguins. Last time I wrote about hungry penguins and how Galapagos Penguins have adapted to a warmer climate than their cousins. I also wrote about fish buffets, ostrich hearts, and penguin love. Hmm . . . I wonder if I could come up with a game where you use a lever to make penguins gobble up small fish before your opponents do. I could call it Hungry Hungry Penguins. Anyway, this post will take a look at the fatter members of the penguin world that you’re probably more familiar with. No penguin feelings were hurt by the words in this blog.

The largest members of the penguin family are the Emperor Penguins, which can grow to be around 4 feet tall and weigh close to 90 pounds! These penguins derive their name from the fact that Chinese emperors kept them as pets during the Ming Dynasty. The penguins were viewed as symbols of good luck and prosperity. A later dynasty traded penguins for ducks. Please remember that everything I write is 100% true and that I never use dry humor or sarcasm. Emperor Penguins live in the chilly, frozen land of Antarctica, where the extremely cold temperatures (wind chills as low as -75 degrees!) and layers of ice make it difficult for most life to survive. Besides the layer of fat for protection, emperors also employ a huddling strategy to keep warm. I think this is the inspiration for huddling in football. Sometimes the quarterback isn’t really calling plays, he’s just making sure everyone stays warm.

Emperor penguins huddling together to aid in heat retention

“I say we run the ball straight up the middle. They’ll never expect that move.”

The huddle may includes thousands of penguins and protects the members on the inside from the harsh winds and bitter cold. What about the penguins on the outside? Well, they freeze to death. Sacrifice is sometimes necessary for the survival of the colony. Okay, you got me. The penguins on the outside endure the weather for a period of time before other penguins rotate to take their place. If you have a strange mind, you might be wondering, where do the penguins use the restroom? Right on the snow. The green snow in the picture below is the result of penguin excrement..

Male emperor penguins huddling for warmth; the snow is green with excrement

Who wouldn’t love to hang out with fat penguins and their dung in -50 degree weather?

After finding the love of her life, a female Emperor Penguin will lay an egg and then promptly take maternity leave to go on vacation. I should mention that the breeding season occurs during the winter! Female penguins may spend around 2 months fishing and hunting in the open ocean away from the frozen ice! Meanwhile, the poor male penguin must protect the egg and fast until the female returns. Talk about being faithful! I’m sure some of my female readers are wishing they could go on an extended trip while their husband watches the kids and starves himself. Anyway, the females are busy chasing down krill, squid and fish. Using their heavy bodies, flippered forelimbs, and feet, Emperor Penguins can dive over 1800 feet!

Emperor penguins descending to feed

This squid might be too large for a penguin. (Photo from animals.nationalgeographic.com)

Once the females return, they look after the newborn chicks and provide them with a freshly regurgitated meal of fish. The males respond after starving for two months in bitter conditions by doing this.

Emperor penguins entering water en masse

“THE WOMEN ARE BACK! FEEDING TIME!!!”

The males finally get their chance to hunt and eat while the females protect the young chicks. By the time the chicks are ready to hunt on their own, the antarctic ice has begun to melt due to the arrival of a very short summer. My next blog will look at the lives of the chicks and the dangers they face. I will also write about how Emperor Penguins propel themselves out of the water and why waddling is an effective form of locomotion. Battles will be fought, love will be won, penguins will be stewed, and lives will be changed. Do penguins live on the ice planet Hoth? Find out next time when the Emperor Penguin Strikes Back!

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