Emperor Penguin

Emperor Penguin

Aptenodytes forsteri
Population size
Life Span
20 yrs
6-9 km/h
22.7-45.4 kg
110-130 cm
76-89 cm

The Emperor penguin is the largest penguin species in the world. This bird is a rather interesting species from the biological standpoint. The Emperor penguin has streamlined plumage, consisting of shiny, water repellent feathers, which prevent the skin from getting wet. The webbed feet of the animal make swimming much easier. The head is big, neck is short and thick, and tail is wedge-shaped and short. The tiny wings of the penguin resemble flippers by their shape. The blackish-blue head is covered with large white and yellow markings on the ears of the animal. The upper parts are blue-grey while the under parts are white, except with the upper breast, having a pale yellow coloring. Males and females are alike.


The Emperor penguin occurs in the Deep South, distributed along the coastline and throughout the compacted ice of the Antarctic continent.

Emperor Penguin habitat map



Climate zones

Habits and Lifestyle

These birds are non-migratory, living deep in the Southern Ocean throughout the year. The Emperor penguins can be active at any time of the night and day. They are highly social birds, gathering in groups to forage and nest. They form large nesting colonies; if the weather is good, they usually defend only small areas around individuals; when it gets too cold, the birds huddle together. Breeding adults have to constantly travel between the nesting and foraging areas all year round. When in water, these animals are excellent swimmers; when on land, they either walk with the identifying waddling gait, or slide over the ice surface on their bellies, propelling themselves with their feet.

Diet and Nutrition

This penguin is a carnivore (piscivore and molluscivore), feeding exclusively upon aquatic animals. Their diet mainly consists of krill and fish, supplemented with squid and crustaceans.

Mating Habits

63 days
150 days
chick, nestling
1 egg

The Emperor penguins have serially monogamous system, mating with only one mate during each season. In March-April, the birds return to their breeding colonies. The gestation period lasts for 63 days. Usually, a female penguin lays a single egg, leaving it to the male, and going out to sea. The male is responsible for keeping the egg warm, carrying it on his feet and incubating the egg for 9 weeks. The hatching occurs after 70 days, which matches the return of the female. When the chick hatch out, the male leaves to forage, and this time the female has to care for the hatchling, feeding it and keeping it warm. The chicks of the Emperor penguin grow up quite rapidly. Reaching the age of 150 days, the young fledge. Male penguins start breeding at 5-6 years old while females - at 5 years of age.


Population threats

Global warming negatively affects the population of these animals, decreasing the area of pack ice, which is the natural habitat of the Emperor penguins. Another concern is fishing vessels that sometimes accidently catch these penguins in their nets.

Population number

The overall estimated population of these penguins is about 595,000 mature individuals. Despite the fact, that the total population of the Emperor penguin is presently stable, on the IUCN Red List the species is classified as Near Threatened.

Ecological niche

The Emperor penguins are an irreplaceable link in the ecosystem of its range. These birds consume various marine species such as small fish, cephalopods or crustaceans. Besides, penguins are an important source of food for larger local predators, including leopard seals and large sharks.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • In the Deep South of Antarctica, where these penguins live, the temperature occasionally drops as low as -60C. These birds are able to survive due to having large stores of body fat as well as several layers of scale-like feathers. In addition, during harsh weather condition, birds in colonies huddle together in order to preserve heat.
  • The Emperor penguins are top swimmers and excellent divers. They are able to dive at a depth of up to 500m, remaining submerged for about 22 minutes.
  • Behind their eyes, these birds possess special supraorbital gland, which acts like a filter, clearing their blood form salt. Due to this gland, the penguins are able to ingest salty ocean water while hunting; the salt is then filtered and released through the animal's beak or by sneezing.
  • The Emperor penguins undergo so-called "catastrophic molt": unlike other birds, who molt a few feathers at a time, the Emperors lose and regrow the whole plumage at one. The period of molt lasts for 2-3 weeks, during which they live on land without going to sea.
  • The ears of the Emperor penguins are not visible, but the birds have strong sense of hearing, which helps them find each other in their large breeding colonies by emitting distinct calls.


1. Emperor Penguin Wikipedia article - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emperor_penguin
2. Emperor Penguin on The IUCN Red List site - http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/22697752/0

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