The emperor penguin is the oldest and largest bird of all representatives of this family that exists on earth. Translated from ancient Greek, their name means “wingless diver”. Penguins are distinguished by interesting behavior and extraordinary intelligence. These birds tend to spend a lot of time in the water. Unfortunately, the number of these majestic birds is constantly declining. Today, the number of individuals does not exceed 300,000. The species is protected.
Origin of the species and description
The emperor penguin is a representative of the class of birds, the order Penguin-like, the penguin family. They are separated into a separate genus and species – emperor penguin.
For the first time, these amazing birds were discovered in 1820 during the research expedition of Bellingshausen. However, the first mention of emperor penguins appeared in the writings of the explorers Vasco da Gama in 1498, who drifted off the African coast and Magellan, who met birds in 1521 off the South American coast. However, ancient researchers drew an analogy with geese. The bird was called a penguin only in the 16th century.
Further study of the evolution of these members of the bird class indicates that their ancestors existed in New Zealand, some regions of South America, and the Antarctic Peninsula. Also, zoologists researchers have discovered the remains of the ancient ancestors of emperor penguins in some regions of Australia and Africa.
Video: Emperor penguin
The oldest remains of penguins come from the end of the Eocene period and indicate that they could exist on earth about 45 million years ago. The ancient ancestors of penguins, judging by the remains found, were much larger than modern individuals. It is believed that the largest ancestor of modern penguins was the Nordenskiöld penguin. His height corresponded to the height of a modern person, and his body weight reached almost 120 kilograms.
Scientists also found that the ancient ancestors of penguins were not waterfowl. They had developed wings and were able to fly. Penguins have the greatest number of similar characteristics with tube-noses. Based on this, both types of birds have common ancestors. Many scientists were engaged in research on birds, including Robert Scott in 1913. As part of the expedition, he went from Cape Evans to Cape Crozier, where he managed to get some eggs of these amazing birds. This allowed us to study in detail the embryonic development of penguins.
Appearance and features
Adult emperor penguin is 100-115 cm tall, especially large males reach height 130-135 cm. The weight of one penguin is 30-45 kilograms. Sexual dimorphism is practically not expressed. Females are slightly smaller than males. As a rule, the growth of females does not exceed 115 centimeters. It is this species that is distinguished by developed muscles and a pronounced thoracic region of the body.
The emperor penguin has a bright and interesting color. The outer surface of the body from the back is painted black. The inside of the body is white. The area of the neck and ears is painted in bright yellow. This color allows these representatives of flora and fauna to go unnoticed in the depths of the sea. The body is smooth, even, very streamlined. Thanks to this, birds can dive deep and quickly develop the desired speed in the water.
Interesting! Birds can change color depending on the season. The black color will change to brown with the onset of November, and remain so until the end of February.
Hatched chicks are covered with plumage of white or light gray. Penguins have a small round head. It is most often painted black. On the head there is a rather powerful, long beak and small, black eyes. The neck is quite small, merges with the body. A powerful, pronounced chest smoothly flows into the stomach.
On both sides of the body there are modified wings that act as fins. The lower limbs are three-toed, have membranes and powerful claws. Has a small tail. A distinctive feature is the structure of bone tissue. They do not have hollow bones like all other bird species. Another distinctive feature is that in the blood vessels of the lower extremities there is a mechanism for regulating heat exchange, which prevents heat loss. Penguins have robust, very dense plumage that allows them to feel comfortable even in the harsh climate of Antarctica.
Where does the emperor penguin live?
The main habitat of penguins is Antarctica. In this region, they form colonies of various sizes – from several tens to several hundreds of individuals. Particularly large groups of emperor penguins number several thousand individuals. In order to settle on the ice blocks of Antarctica, birds move to the edge of the mainland. To breed and incubate eggs, birds always return in full force to the central regions of Antarctica.
Research by zoologists has established that today there are about 37 bird colonies. As habitats, they tend to choose places that can serve as shelters and protect these representatives of flora and fauna from natural enemies and strong, prickly winds. Therefore, they are most often located behind ice blocks, cliffs, snowdrifts. A prerequisite for the location of numerous bird colonies is free access to the reservoir.
The amazing birds that can’t fly are mostly concentrated between 66 and 77 south latitude lines. The largest colony lives in the area of Cape Washington. Its population exceeds 20,000.
Islands and regions where emperor penguins live:
- Taylor Glacier;
- Queen Maud’s domain ;
- Heard Island;
- Coleman Island;
- Victoria Island;
- South Sandwich Islands;
- Fire Earth.
What does the emperor penguin eat?
Considering harsh climate and eternal frost, all the inhabitants of Antarctica get their food in the depths of the sea. Penguins spend about two months a year at sea.
Interesting! This species of birds has no equal among divers. They are able to dive to a depth of five hundred meters and hold their breath underwater for almost twenty minutes.
The depth of diving directly depends on the degree of illumination of the water depths by the sun’s rays. The more the water is illuminated, the deeper these birds can dive. When in the water, they rely only on their eyesight. During the hunt, birds develop speeds up to 6-7 km/h. Fish of various species serve as a food source, as well as other marine life: molluscs, squids, oysters, plankton, crustaceans, krill, etc.
Penguins prefer to hunt in groups. Several penguins literally attack a flock of fish or other marine life and grab everyone who does not have time to escape. Penguins absorb small prey right in the water. Large prey is pulled onto land, and, tearing it apart, they eat it.
In search of food, birds are able to travel huge distances, up to 6-7 hundreds of kilometers. At the same time, they are not afraid of severe frost from -45 to -70 degrees and a piercing storm wind. Penguins spend a huge amount of effort and energy on catching fish and other prey. Sometimes they have to dive up to 300-500 times a day. Birds have a specific structure of the oral cavity. They have spikes that are directed backwards, respectively, with their help it is easy to hold prey.
Peculiarities of character and lifestyle
Penguins not solitary animals, they live in group conditions and create strong pairs that persist throughout the life of birds.
Interesting! Penguins are the only birds in existence that can’t make nests.
They lay their eggs and breed while hiding behind natural hiding places – rocks, cliffs, ice, and so on. Almost two months a year they spend at sea in search of food, the rest of the time is devoted to incubating eggs and hatching offspring. Birds have a very developed parental instinct. They are considered excellent, very reverent and caring parents.
Birds can move on land on their hind limbs, or lying on their stomachs, moving with their front and hind limbs. They walk slowly, slowly and very awkwardly, as the short lower limbs do not bend at the knee joint. They feel much more confident and agile in the water. They are able to dive deep, reach speeds up to 6-10 km/h. Emperor penguins emerge from the water, making amazing jumps up to several meters long.
These birds are considered very cautious and fearful. Feeling the slightest approach of danger, they rush in all directions, leaving behind eggs and their offspring. However, many colonies treat people very affably and friendly. Often they are not only not afraid of people, but also examine them with interest, even allow them to touch themselves. Complete matriarchy reigns in bird colonies. Females are leaders, they choose their own males and seek their attention. After the formation of a pair, the males incubate the eggs, and the females go hunting.
Emperor penguins are very resistant to severe frosts and strong winds. They have a fairly developed subcutaneous fat, as well as a very thick and dense plumage. To keep warm, the birds form a large circle. Inside this circle, the temperature reaches +30 at an ambient temperature of -25-30 degrees. In the center of the circle, most often cubs. Adults change places, moving from the center closer to the edge, and vice versa.
Social structure and reproduction
Penguins tend to form strong, long-lasting pairs. The pair is formed at the initiative of the female. She herself chooses a companion for herself, leaving no chance for other, not so successful males. Then the female begins to look after the male very beautifully. First, she lowers her head, spreads her wings and begins to sing songs. The male sings along in unison. In the process of marriage tunes, they recognize each other by voice, but do not try to sing louder than others, so as not to interrupt other people’s singing. Such courtship lasts almost a whole month. The couple moves one after another, or performs peculiar dances with their beaks thrown back. Marriage is preceded by a series of mutual bows.
At the end of April, or in May, the female lays one egg. Its weight is 430-460 grams. Before laying an egg, she does not eat anything for a month. Therefore, after the mission is completed, she immediately goes to sea for food. She has been there for about two months. All this period, the future father looks after the egg. He lays the egg in the skin fold between the lower limbs, which acts as a bag. No wind and frost will force the male to leave the egg. Males without a family pose a threat to future fathers. They can take the egg in a fit of rage, or break it. Due to the fact that fathers treat their offspring so reverently and responsibly, more than 90% of the eggs b
Males during this period significantly lose weight. At this point, their weight does not exceed 25 kilograms. The female returns when the male experiences an unbearable feeling of hunger and calls her back. She returns with supplies of seafood for the baby. Then it’s dad’s turn to rest. Its rest lasts approximately 3-4 weeks.
For the first two months, the chick is covered with down and is not able to survive in the harsh climate of Antarctica. He exists only in the warm, cozy pocket of his parents. The temperature there is constantly maintained at least 35 degrees. If, by a fatal accident, the cub falls out of the pocket, instant death awaits him. Only with the advent of summer do they begin to move independently and learn to swim, get their own food.
Natural enemies of emperor penguins
In their natural habitat, birds do not have many enemies in the animal kingdom. They risk becoming the prey of sea leopards or predatory killer whales when they go to the open sea in search of food.
A great threat to defenseless chicks is posed by other raptors – skuas or giant petrels. For adults, they do not pose any danger, but for chicks they are a serious threat. According to statistics, about a third of all chicks die precisely because of the attack of birds of prey. Most often, solitary cubs become the prey of feathered predators. To protect their offspring from attack, birds form the so-called “nurseries”, or clusters of babies. So their chances of survival increase.
Man is a serious threat to the species. Back in the 18th century, seafarers began to exterminate birds whose nests were located in the coastal zone. Due to poaching, by the beginning of the 20th century, these amazing birds were on the verge of extinction.
Population and species status
A significant threat to the emperor penguin population is climate change and warming. An increase in temperature leads to the melting of glaciers, that is, the destruction of the natural habitat of birds. Such processes lead to a decrease in the birth rate of birds. Due to climate change, certain species of fish, mollusks, and crustaceans are dying out, that is, the food supply of penguins is decreasing.
Man and his activities play a big role in the disappearance of emperor penguins. People exterminate not only penguins, but also catch fish and other inhabitants of the deep sea in large quantities. Over time, the number of species of marine life is constantly decreasing.
Recently, extreme tourism has become very common. Lovers of new sensations go to the most inaccessible and unsociable parts of the globe. Antarctica is no exception. As a result, emperor penguin habitats are being polluted.
Emperor Penguin Conservation
Today, emperor penguins are listed in the Red Book. At the beginning of the 20th century, they were in danger of extinction. To date, measures have been taken to preserve and increase the number of birds. They are forbidden to be killed. Also, in order to preserve the species, it is forbidden to catch fish and krill for industrial purposes in the bird habitats. The International Commission for the Conservation of Marine Life has proposed declaring the east coast of Antarctica a protected area in order to preserve the emperor penguins.
The emperor penguin is an amazing bird, whose growth exceeds one meter. It survives in harsh and very difficult climatic conditions. In this, it is helped by a thick layer of subcutaneous fat, structural features of the thermoregulation system, as well as a very dense plumage. Emperor penguins are considered very cautious, but at the same time very peaceful birds.