‘Beauteous Duck’

The emperor penguin is an animal from which myths are made. /

Praise the Lord from the earth,
you great sea creatures and all ocean depths.
(Ps. 148:7)

The qualities of the emperor penguin are extraordinary.

They are the only bird species that breed on sea ice, and the only penguin that may live their whole life without touching land.

They are the largest living penguin, weighing in at double their nearest rival, the king penguin of the subantarctic islands.

Male emperors incubate their eggs uninterrupted for two months, the longest time of any bird or reptile, all the while shuffling with the egg balanced on their feet (albatrosses incubate longer, but they take turns at the nest).

Masters of endurance, they weather the coldest and windiest habitat on earth. They are the only penguin that shows no territorial aggression, having realized that in order to survive, personal space is a luxury they cannot afford. They live through storms of hurricane-force winds and temperatures as low as minus 70◦C, leading Apsley Cherry-Garrard to observe that in his opinion no creature on earth has a worse time.

By the end of their incubation the males have fasted for four months, burning 80 percent of their fat reserves before beginning to break down their own muscles. The little fat they leave on their bones is just enough to fuel their walk back to open sea at the completion of this fast, a journey of over a hundred miles across rough and broken sea ice.

Though they are in some ways closer to reptiles than any other bird alive, they produce a milky fat-rich substance to feed their young, as mammals do. The process is astonishing: although starving themselves, the males slough off strips of their own stomach lining, each laden with fat globules, to feed their newly hatched chicks ...

Follow The Behemoth on Twitter and Facebook.

Also in this Issue

Issue 17 / March 5, 2015
  1. Editors’ Note
  2. The Problem of Beauty

    It’s a clue that leads us to the most magnificent of places. /

  3. The Good News on Paper

    13 amazing facts about a material used by millions to feed the soul. /

  4. O Sapientia

    ‘My Ground of Being, always grounding me.’ /

  5. Wonder on the Web

    Links to amazing stuff /

Issue Archives