The king penguin is a bright representative of the penguin family. Often confused with emperor penguins, they share a number of distinctive features such as appearance, habitat, and lifestyle. These unusual birds were among the first (along with polar bears) to suffer from global warming.
Origin of the species and description
The king penguin belongs to the penguin family. The most ancient remains of penguins are about 45 million years old. Despite the fact that penguins are large, massive birds, their ancestors were much larger. For example, the closest relative of king and emperor penguins is the largest representative of the remains ever found. Its weight was about 120 kg.
Video: King penguin
Ancient penguins differ little from modern ones, but some subspecies had the ability to fly. The connection between flying and flightless penguins is lost, and fossils that would become intermediate links have not yet been found.
All members of the penguin family have features that unite them. As a rule, these are the following aspects:
- packing lifestyle. It allows penguins to effectively avoid predators and keep warm during cold periods;
- streamlined body shape, which allows these birds to quickly swim underwater, in no way inferior to fish and other waterfowl;
- inability to fly . The wings of penguins are very different from the wings of other birds – they are small and covered with dense feathers;
- vertical landing. In terms of movement, penguins are similar to humans: they have a straight spine, strong legs and a mobile neck.
Penguins differ from each other in size and color, although the colors are mostly the same: dark back and head, light belly. Penguins have a long beak, a goiter and a long esophagus, which allows them to maintain energy in the body for longer and feed the chicks with regurgitated food.
Interesting fact: Scientists believe that this color of penguins masks them in the water; if the predator looks at the penguin from the bottom up, then he sees a white belly that merges with the sunlight. If he looks down, then the black cover of the penguin masks him against the background of dark water.
Appearance and features
The king penguin is a large member of its family that can weigh up to 15 kg. This is one of the largest penguins in existence. It has a streamlined body shape and thick feathers that are water repellent. Under the feathers, the penguin hides a thick layer of fat, which allows him to swim in cold water and not freeze in low temperatures. Fat also allows the penguin to go without food for a long time.
The king penguin, like other penguins, is distinguished by “upright walking”. His spine has minimal curves, and only his head is the moving part. The belly is white or gray, the back and tail are black. Also black paws and the outer side of the wings. On the chest of the penguins there is a rich yellow spot. There are spots of the same color symmetrically on the sides of the head, and a yellow stripe on the beak. Scientists do not yet know why the penguin needs such bright spots in color, which definitely do not mask it from predators.
Males are slightly larger than females, but it is impossible to distinguish them by color or some other features of birds. Males and females do not secrete any pheromones.
Interesting fact: It is rare for king penguins to form homosexual couples because they are confused about the sex of a partner, unable to distinguish a male from a female.
King penguin chicks are brown in color and have light, fluffy feathers. As they grow, they feather into lighter shades.
The king penguin is not difficult to confuse with the emperor penguin, but they have a number of distinctive features:
- size — the king penguin is much smaller than the emperor with a body length of up to 1 m, while the emperor can reach a height of one and a half meters;
- the color of the king penguins is brighter – brighter yellow spots on the chest, beak, head. This is due to the warmer habitat of the penguins;
- The king penguin has much longer wings than the emperor. This allows him to move faster underwater;
- The legs of king penguins are also longer, which makes these birds more agile.
Where does it live king penguin?
They can only be found in the following areas:
- South Georgia Island;
- Tierra del Fuego Islands;
- South Sandich Islands;
- Prince Edward Islands;
- Crozet Islands.
Interesting fact: Penguins do not live at the North Pole and in the Northern Hemisphere of the Earth in general. Southern Hemisphere only!
Penguins inhabit vast flat areas that are covered with a thick layer of snow in winter. They do not choose to settle on rocks or steep slopes, unlike many other penguin species. This is due to the fact that king penguins are slightly mobile on the ground due to their weighty body mass, although due to the structure of their legs they are faster than their closest relatives – emperor penguins.
Close access to the sea or ocean is required, as it is — the only source of food for the penguin. Penguins settle in large flocks; in winter, you can see how they stand in dense large groups, protecting each other from the wind.
With the advent of global warming, you can see king penguins walking on green grass. This is bad for the health of penguins, as they are not adapted to high temperatures and suffer from heat.
Interesting fact: The position of the king penguins is still better than that of emperors, which often settle on glaciers. Melting ice destroys their natural habitat, forcing the penguins to urgently look for a new home.
King penguins do well in zoos. They willingly breed in captivity and adapt to a new way of life. Now you know where the king penguin lives. Let’s see what he eats.
What does the king penguin eat?
Exclusively predatory. The penguin’s diet includes:
- various fish;
- large plankton;
Interesting fact: Unlike dolphins, penguins willingly eat already pre-killed fish in zoos.
Penguins need a lot of drinking water. They get it from snow, but they are also adapted to drink salt water. To do this, they have special glands at eye level that purify the water from salt. The salt eventually turns into a concentrated solution and exits through the bird’s nostrils.
Like emperor penguins, king penguins hunt seasonally. Usually, females and males alternately look after the cub for two to three weeks; for example, the female stays with the chick, while the males go on a long hunt to the water. Upon returning to the family, the males regurgitate food for the chick and the second half.
Due to warming, penguins began to breed less often (once every 2 years), so females and males began to feed at the same time. Penguins are graceful underwater. They develop high speed in pursuit of fish, grab it with a long beak and eat it on the go. Penguins are able to swallow large prey, they can get food from narrow corners in rock crevices, which makes them dangerous hunters.
Character and lifestyle features
King penguins are friendly towards people, showing interest in naturalists. They live in large flocks, in winter they stand close to each other to keep warm. During periods of reproduction and puberty, penguins become aggressive towards each other. They form pairs that occupy a certain small area in the habitat of the flock. And each couple wants to occupy as much territory as possible, which is why the penguins start to fight.
Usually fights are quick – an injured losing penguin is quickly removed from the battlefield. But sometimes they are fatal, because the penguin can injure the opponent’s head with a strong beak. From a thousand to 500 thousand individuals gather on the territory by the breeding season. But most of the time, king penguins spend in the water, diving to great depths. On land, they move on their belly, sliding on the ice. The tail in this situation acts as a rudder. On their paws, they move slowly, waddle, waddling from side to side.
There is no hierarchy in a flock of penguins. They lack leaders, dominant females, and weak or strong males. Growing up penguins do not form new flocks, but remain in this group, making it even more numerous. Penguins are able to reach speeds of up to 15 km/h in water, diving up to 300 m deep. On average, they hold their breath for up to five minutes, and then rise to the surface to breathe – they do this up to 150 times a day.
Social Structure and Reproduction
Previously, penguins molted once a year, but due to climate change, they began to change their plumage every two years. During the molting period, the mating season begins. Penguins come out onto land and wait for the warm feathers to fall off and leave a thin layer of feathers. This season coincides with spring warming. Penguins come out to rocky places with a lot of pebbles. Males begin to actively move around the flock and often turn their heads, attracting the attention of females. This suggests that the male is ready to become a father. Sometimes males can raise their wings and squawk, attracting females.
Rarely, there are skirmishes between males over females. Then the penguins beat each other with their wings and beaks, after which the loser leaves. The female and male “dance” for some time, lightly touching each other with wings and beaks. After the dance, the penguins mate, then continue to dance.
Fun Fact: The Penguins are looking to find the same mate they had cubs with last season. This does not always work, but sometimes such pairs can form for a long period of time.
In December, the female lays one egg, which she holds under the fat fold at the bottom of her belly. She moves, supporting the egg on her paws – it must not be allowed to touch the cold ground, otherwise the chick will freeze. In the first week of incubation, the female gives the egg to the male, and she leaves to feed for two to three weeks. So they change throughout the entire hatching and looking after the chick.
The chick hatches in eight weeks. Covered in down, it still sits under the parent’s fat fold. The chick needs to grow up for the onset of cold weather, otherwise it will not survive the hungry time. In the wild, penguins live for over 25 years.
King penguin natural enemies
Penguins with predators collide predominantly in water. Usually these are the following creatures:
- killer whales are skilled penguin hunters. They drive the penguins onto the ice floes and circle around, causing the ice floe to break. They hunt seals in the same way;
- sea leopards — they can get penguins on land, but thanks to sliding on the belly, penguins usually overtake them, although in the water leopards easily catch adult penguins;
- sea lions;
- white sharks;
- seagulls — they steal penguin eggs;
- introduced cats and dogs;
- petrels and albatrosses — they can kill chicks.
Penguins do not know how to defend themselves, and their only salvation is speed. In the water, they deftly swim between rocks and ice floes, confusing the enemy, and on land they glide on their belly, thus accelerating.
On land, penguins are rarely attacked, because they nest a little further than the water and stand in large groups. In a flock, penguins can shout loudly at the enemy and notify their fellows of danger. Penguins always stand in the center of the circle, protected by adults.
King penguins sometimes have a fear of water. A group of penguins come to the edge to start feeding, but they don’t dare to enter the water. They can walk at the water’s edge for hours until one of the penguins dives – then a flock will follow.
Population and species status
Until 1918, king penguins were uncontrollably destroyed by people as game birds, although they did not have any important significance for humans. When the population was reduced to a critical level, conservation measures were taken. The penguin population has also recovered quickly thanks to the many pairs kept in captivity.
The king penguin population numbers approximately 3-4 million individuals. The threat of extinction does not stand over these birds, however, according to scientists, global warming can significantly reduce their numbers by the end of the century.
Melting ice sheets will reduce the king penguin population by more than 70 percent – that’s about 1 million permanent pairs. Due to the reduction in food, the birds will be forced to look for new places of food, as a result of which they will not produce offspring for a long time.
A large-scale fishing industry, which leads to a significant reduction in the number of fish, is also the reason for the possible extinction of penguins. Penguins are an important part of the food chain, and their extinction will reduce the population of leopard seals, killer whales and other predators that feed on these birds.
Fun fact: The Scottish zoo has a penguin, Niels Olaf , promoted to general in 2016. He is the mascot of the Norwegian Royal Guard. A full-length statue has been erected in his honor.
The king penguin is a member of the family, second in size only to the emperor penguin. These beautiful birds inhabit the Southern Hemisphere and are an essential part of the ecosystem. Now all kinds of measures are being taken to preserve this amazing bird species.