An Amazing Emperor
THE largest of all penguins, the emperor stands nearly four feet [stands more than a meter] tall and weighs up to 85 pounds [40 kg]. When other penguins head north to escape Antarctica’s brutal, dark winter, emperors head south—for Antarctica! Why? Amazingly, to have their young.
When the female emperor lays her egg, the male quickly scoops it up off the ice and onto his feet. He then tucks it under his brood pouch—a fold of skin on his lower abdomen. The female then heads for the open sea and food. For 65 days, during the harshest of weather, the male incubates the egg while living off his body fat. To preserve body heat while being raked with blizzards that may reach 120 miles [200 km] per hour, these canny birds huddle together in large groups, each one taking its turn on the outside, with its back to the wind.
With incredible timing, the egg hatches just when the female returns. But how does she find her mate among the thousands of look-alikes? By means of a song. During their initial courtship, the pair sang to each other and committed each other’s rendition to memory. When the females return, males and females sing with all their heart. Humans would be thoroughly confused by the cacophony, but the emperors soon find their mates. Then, after reluctantly handing over the newly hatched chick, the near-starving male waddles and belly-slides across some 45 miles of ice in his quest for open water and food.
[Picture Credit Line on page 31]
By courtesy of John R. Peiniger