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Last updated on April 17, 2014 at 1:21 EDT

King Penguin

The King Penguin (Aptenodytes patagonicus) is the second largest species of penguin. At about 3 ft (900 mm) tall and weighing 24 to 33 lb (11 to 15 kg), it is second only to the Emperor Penguin in size and weight. Currently there is a world population of roughly four million King Penguins, which are divided into two subspecies (A. p. patagonicus and A. p. halli).

King penguins have a diet that consists of small fish, krill, crustaceans and squid ““ chiefly due to its location on the coasts of Antarctica. These birds feed in groups and are able to stay underwater for extended periods, like many large penguins.

They can be found in the northern reaches of Antarctica, as well as Tierra del Fuego, the Falklands, and other temperate islands of the region.

Diet

The King Penguin parent will feed its chicks by eating fish and then digesting it slightly so that the chick can manage to swallow it after regurgitating the food into the chick’s mouth.

Ice and water in Antarctica is primarily salty, thus making it impossible for most animals to drink. However, the king penguin’s stomach, has a highly evolved answer to this problem – its powerful stomach can separate the salt completely, allowing the bird to drink without becoming dehydrated.

Movement

Although the king penguin is a bird it does not have the ability to fly. Instead it uses its wings as swimming flippers instead. The king penguin’s hydrodynamic body allows it to glide through the water with ease. It can also dive up to 700 ft. The famous penguin waddle is an obvious way for the penguin to get around but there is a much faster way, the king penguin just uses its stomach and slides along the smooth plains of ice. This is called tobogganing.

Crèche

When the young penguins are large and mature enough, they will often form crèches, a grouping of many chicks together. A penguin can leave its chick at a crèche while it fishes while a few adult penguins stay behind as nursemaids. Other varieties of penguins also practice this method of communal care for offspring.

Breeding

The king penguin breeds in winter even though the environment is cold and difficult. They time their mating so the chicks will develop during the harshest part of the season when fish and other prey are scarce. When the young penguins are finally mature enough to leave their parents, it will be in the summer when food is plentiful and conditions are easier for them to survive alone.

Adaptations to the Environment

King penguins have adapted well to the intense living conditions in the Antarctic. In order to keep warm, the penguins have four layers of feathering. The outer layer of feathers is oiled and thus water proof, not unlike the feathers on a duck. The inner three layers are extremely insulating down. A chick is born without the oily outer layer, and therefore cannot fish until maturity.

In many situations, such as the breeding season, king penguins will function as a group in order to ensure their survival. One notable tactic for braving the cold is combining the body heat of the community. Oftentimes, hundreds of birds will huddle together for warmth, taking turns on the outside so no one freezes.

King Penguin