Antarctic expert: The Emperor penguin

Emperor penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri) and chicks, Snow Hill Island, Weddell Sea, Antarctica, Polar Regions

The emperor penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri) is the tallest and heaviest of all living penguin species and is endemic to Antarctica. The male and female are similar in plumage and size, reaching 100 cm (39 in) in length and weighing from 22 to 45 kg (49 to 99 lb). Feathers of the head and back are black and sharply delineated from the white belly, pale-yellow breast and bright-yellow ear patches.

Emperor penguins breed only during the Antarctic winter. They travel 50-120 km over ice to reach breeding colonies, which can house thousands of individuals. The female lays one egg, which the male incubates for a little over two months while the female goes back to sea to eat. Parents alternate between caring for their chick at the colony and foraging at sea. While their typical lifespan is 20 years in the wild, some observations show that they may live up to 50 years.


Of the 18 different species of penguin, only two (the emperor and Adélie) are actually true Antarctic residents. Breeding colonies of emperor penguins are found around the coast of the entire Antarctic continent.


The emperor penguin is a social animal in its nesting and its foraging behaviour; birds hunting together may coordinate their diving and surfacing. Individuals may be active day or night. A mature adult travels throughout most of the year between the breeding colony and ocean foraging areas; the species disperses into the oceans from January to March


The emperor penguin’s diet consists mainly of fish, crustaceans and cephalopods, although its composition varies from population to population. Fish are usually the most important food source, and the Antarctic silverfish makes up the bulk of the bird’s diet.


  • Name: Emperor penguin
  • Scientific NameAptenodytes forsteri
  • Class: Aves
  • Lifespan: 20 years
  • Diet: Carnivore
  • Habitat: Antarctica



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