Your Basic Emperor Penguin

Antarctica is home to the largest of all penguins, the emperor penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri) which can grow up to 122 cm and weighs up to 99 pounds. While they cannot fly, they have specialized feathers that resist water and provide a streamline shape. They eat fish and krill and can dive more than 300 meters and stay under water for 22 minutes. Emperor penguins form monogamous pairs, with the female laying an egg in May or June and passing it over to the male soon afterwards. The male carries the egg on his feet through the winter, covering it with warm abdominal skin. This is the incubation period of the egg, during which the male has no opportunity to eat. He waits until the female returns about two months later and he can pass the egg to her. This is one of the more romantic, crowd-pleasing aspects of penguin behavior.


Early Chick Checkout

Like with most baby animals, it is incredibly easy for a baby emperor penguin to meet an untimely death. If the egg is left out in the open for too long it freezes, and will never hatch. Once hatched, the chicks can also be eaten by petrels, freeze to death or die of hunger. Normally emperor penguins are attentive and exclusive parents, but when tragedy strikes a different behavior emerges.

Kidnapping! Snatching a Chick

Based on a 1993 study, non-mated pairs, non-mated females and mating pairs who’s chicks have died all “adopt” chicks whether the chicks need it or not. Kidnapping occurs when a non-independent chick is forcibly taken away, by another adult, from a parent that is caring for it at the time. During the first year of the study 53% of chick adoptions were cases of kidnapping. The original parent always fought for its chick but never tried to recover it once it had been taken away. Generally the adopted or kidnapped chicks were abandoned and died.