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The Emperor Penguin
The penguin is an animal that has the capacity to thermo-regulate its own body temperature. It is warm-blooded and can maintain a constant body temperature even in the most extreme conditions. It does this thanks to the oil it secretes to water-proof its feathers (it is able to spread out this oil with its beak and lock in great quantities of air between the oil and the body, which serves as an insulator), thanks to a layer of body fat (which allows it to retain body heat), and also thanks to a high fat content in its food.

The penguin is also able to regulate its body heat by having two different internal temperature levels: its core temperature at the center of its body is warm, while the extremities of its body are nearly as cold as the outside air.

The temperature at the extremities is regulated by a system of exchange of heat between the arteries and the veins. The blood coming from the heart heats up the cold blood coming from the feet, which in turns cools down the blood flowing towards the extremities. In addition, the blood flow in the limbs can be reduced when it is cold.

Other anatomical, physiological and behavioral characteristics have developed as the penguin has evolved, to ensure this thermo-regulation.

Penguins have to deal with both the constraints of sea life and of life on the ice. While marine environments are stable, terrestrial environments are subject to seasonal climate changes. So it is not surprising that the penguin's life revolves around a constant struggle to adjust to cooling or warming.

To better fight against the cold of the Austral winter, the emperor penguins have adopted social behavior patterns which allow them to save a lot of energy. The most striking adaptation is the huddle formation in which the individuals huddle against each other and form a very dense group. Only their backs are exposed to the wind, and they take turns so that the ones at the edge of the huddle formation gradually move towards the center where they will be more protected for a while, until they find themselves out on the edge again.

One of the most surprising characteristics of the emperor penguin, which is its aptitude to survive on its food reserves when fasting.

During this period of fasting, which lasts about 115 days for the male, covers the whole span of the breeding cycle – the courtship dances, the coupling, the laying of the egg, the incubation period, and the hatching of the chicks – each bird can lose up to a third of its body weight.

The coupling produces a single egg which is incubated outside a nest, during the coldest period of the year – the Austral winter – imposing weeks of fasting and effort on the parents. This egg is fragile and cannot come into contact with the ice. It has to be kept in the incubating pocket or else it might freeze, break or be exposed to predators on the look-out.

On average, only about two-thirds of the eggs will hatch. But the number of lost eggs varies enormously, from one year to the next.

Another surprising characteristic of the emperor penguin, is its capacity for vocal identification and recognition. Not only can a chick recognize its parent from just 2/10th of a second of song, but it is able to do so when six other parents are singing around it at up to 6dB louder than its own parent.

(As noted by Pierre Jouventin, Centre d'éducation fonctionnelle et évolutive (CNRS) of Montpellier)

The couples remain faithful for the whole breeding season. They do not, however, mate for life. Only a handful of pairs will reunite from one year to the next.

The notion of territory is virtually unheard of among the emperor penguins during the breeding season. This is not the case with the Adélie or King Penguins.

The huddle formation, which requires that the penguins pack tightly<


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