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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.