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Antarctica

An Antarctic Legacy: the Emperor Penguin’s Hidden Nest

Apr 20, 2021 | Antarctica

It was the middle of June, a summer solstice in places where most humans live. 

For many Emperor penguins, however, it meant one thing — that the Antarctic winter couldn’t get any more worse. Huddling together closely with around 5000 to 10,000 other male penguins, a male Emperor stood nearly still with partially-closed eyes, as if dozing off from the sharp icy wind.

 

Arctic Penguins Population in Winter

United against the killer winter

He had lost almost half his body weight; his fat reserve collected from several months of hunting and eating during the Antarctic summer was quickly depleting. The precious energy reserve was not only used to keep himself warm. 

He also held under his thick brooding pouch a newly hatched chick, while making an effort to balance his chick over his warm feet. When the chick gets hungry, he would regurgitate fatty liquid from his mouth to feed it. 

Occasionally, he would huddle closer to the center of the colony where it is warmer. When it was his turn, he would move outward to let another penguin further into the shared warm space. 

Cooperation is truly the key to survival, and no other bird species does it better than the penguins.

The females returned from the hunt

The Emperor chick had only seen its father since it hatched. Although, after two months of its life, it will soon meet its mother for the first time. It is still unclear as to why the Emperor colony had to travel so far away from the open water to come to breed in such a barren landscape. One hypothesis is that they hide themselves from predators that occupy the ice edge.

After waddling and sledding over tens of kilometers from the ice edge, the fattened up females have returned in drones — at just about time when their mate was about to starve. Not all of the females returned as the winters had always been unforgiving. Among the loud calls of reunion, some males and their chick never hear a reply call from the female.

When any of the chick’s parents die, it would spell death to the entire family. 

Artic Penguins Family in Snow

Life as it is for the Emperors

For the Emperor penguins, their biological and social adaptation means that there is nowhere else they would rather live. The harsh Antarctic ecosystem is also where they can thrive, separating them from the world’s most fearsome predators, and even humans.

The spectacular sight of birth and death happen in the Emperor’s hidden nest, every day for millions of years. For us as foreign observers, we can only admire this legacy that the white continent has presented to us.

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