Emperor Penguins; How They Survive Antarctica

Purpose: The purpose of this blog post is to research the Emperor Penguin using the textbook and internet sources to understand more about this species and how they thermoregulate to survive harsh artic temperatures.

Home of the Emperor Penguin

Background: The animal I chose to research is the Emperor Penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri). The scientific name comes from the Ancient Greek word, aptenodytes (ἀ-πτηνο-δύτης), which in English means “without-wings-diver” (Emperor Penguin, Wikipedia). The Emperor Penguin is the tallest and heaviest of all species of penguins, standing at an average of 45 inches (115 cm) and weighing 45-99 lbs.  Emperor Penguins call Antarctica home year round, which is interesting because they are one of the only species to stay on the continent through the cold winters. Antarctica is part of the tundra biome, where winter beings in March, and temperatures usually drip as low as -76°F (-60°C).  Precipitation in this biome varies from about 200 mm to 600 mm a year, but as Molles (2010) states, “because average annual temperatures are so low, precipitation exceeds evaporation” (p. 36), meaning in warmer months, it is soggy, and in colder months, it is very icy and there is not much available water supply.  Emperor Penguins live in colonies in the tundra out on open ice all day every day, and because of this, they need to find ways to thermoregulate and survive.

Emperor Penguins huddling together.

Need for Emperor Penguins to Thermoregulate: It is necessary for Emperor Penguins and all animals living in the arctic tundra to thermoregulate because if they didn’t, survival would be impossible.  Thermoregulation, according to Molles, helps organisms to regulate body temperature in order to survive, especially in the harsh climate of the Tundra (p. 110).  Because the Emperor Penguin colonies stay in the open air on the ice all year round, they have had to adapt to the freezing cold temperatures.

How Emperor Penguins Regulate Their Body Temperatures

Emperor Penguins have adapted to the freezing cold temperatures of Antarctica over the years and found ways to help preserve heat and regulate their body temperatures.  Based on Schmidt-Nielson’s equation created to show the components of heat, Heat stored = Hm +/- Hcd +/- Hcv +/- Hr -He, Emperor Penguins mainly rely on conduction (Hcd) to regulate their body temperatures.  They huddle in large groups, keeping the penguins on the inside protected form the harsh winds, and after a certain period of time, the inner penguins rotate to the outside to give others time to warm up.  The other component Emperor Penguins use, though do not rely that heavily on) is radiation (Hr).  The use the heat from the sun to warm themselves up.

Emperor Penguins use a couple different strategies to thermoregulate and survive through the harsh arctic winters.  Emperor Penguins rely heavily on conduction to gather heat in order to regulate their body temperatures.  “They huddle together to escape wind and conserve warmth. Individuals take turns moving to the group’s protected and relatively toasty interior. Once a penguin has warmed a bit it will move to the perimeter of the group so that others can enjoy protection from the icy elements” (National Geographic, 2010). This is a perfect example of conduction; the penguins huddle together to create “body heat” as people call it when organisms come so close to other organisms so that the heat transfers between them. It is a cycle that relies on the heat coming off of each other’s bodies to stay warm.  Another way these penguins regulate body temperature is through radiation.  According to Molles, radiation, or infrared light is responsible for most of the heat “you feel radiating from the sunny side of a building on a winter’s day” (p. 110).  Though it may not seem like the sun does anything to warm them up in the middle of the winter in the Arctic Circle, the radiation from the sun does reflect off of the penguins bodies and off the ice to help warm things up even a tiny bit.  It is very important that these penguins regulate their body temperatures because this is Antarctica we are talking about; temperatures in the winter drop as low as -76°F.  If they did not have conduction and radiation, it would be nearly impossible to keep heat in their bodies and they would most likely die off trying to find a new adaptation.

March of the Penguins is a movie that came out in 2005 all about mating and survival habits of the Emperor Penguin specifically.  I saw the movie at the movie theater and immediately fell in love with these animals.  They way they search for mates for so long, through such harsh weather where it becomes survival of the fittest, like we talked about in class, and the weak ones die off, while  the others have found ways to try to stay warm.



Molles, M.C. (2010). Ecology. Concepts and Applications. 5th Ed. NY: McGraw-Hill.

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3 Responses to Emperor Penguins; How They Survive Antarctica

  1. fsm92 says:

    I really like the idea that you posted media from March of the Penguins, because it is such a recent film. It was interesting to see how the animation does actually relate and represent realistic environmental issues and happenings. (Example- Polar ice caps melting, and pollution).

  2. alexh1992 says:

    Penguins live in such harsh conditions. Naturally I would think that penguins would be very competetive and only worry about their own survival. So, it fascinates me that penguins take turns moving to the center of the warm huddle. Therefore, penguins really work together as a community for survival. Not only is this form of heat conduction seems to be rather successful, but emperor penguins “instinctively know when to move from the center of this huddle toward the outer edges” (Snow n.d.). This I find extremely intriguing!


    1. Snow, Emma. Emperor Penguins Retrieved October 20, 2010 from http://www.za77.org/Article/Emperor-Penguins/9100.

  3. zorpheusmaximus13 says:

    I really enjoyed reading your post, especially about the March of the Penguins. The penguins survival instincts are quite amazing, as show by the film. If I can recall, they travel through harsh blizzards and dead surroundings, the penguin travels with pure instinct. I was never really aware of penguins, and other animals as well, body characteristics that keep them from needing water.

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