diet and prey
The tallest and heaviest of all penguin species, emperor penguins are native to Antarctica and rely on the icy waters surrounding the frozen landscape for food.
But what fish do emperor penguins eat? Are there other kinds of marine life in their diet? Read on to learn more about the diet and hunting habits of these imperial flightless birds.
A familiar subject of many wildlife documentaries, emperor penguins subsist on fish caught in Antarctic waters. Fish, especially Antarctic whitebait, make up the largest component of their diet, along with squid and crustaceans.
Emperor penguins are capable of diving to a maximum recorded depth of 564 meters (1,850 feet) and can stay underwater for about 20 minutes, chasing squid in seawater. Most of the time, diving is limited to around 50 meters (160 feet), where fish and crustaceans prey.
Once at the breeding grounds, male emperor penguins can survive for up to four months without eating or drinking while their eggs incubate.
They relied on the energy reserves they built up earlier in the year, losing half their body weight in the process. After the juveniles hatch, the females return with food, while the males are able to return to the sea to hunt again.
To learn more about the hunting skills and survival adaptations of emperor penguins when food supplies are limited, read on.
Antarctic whitebait is one of the largest parts of an emperor penguin’s diet
diet and prey
What is the emperor penguin’s favorite food?
Emperor penguins were not built to hunt on land, but instead get all their dietary needs from seawater. Fish make up the bulk of their diet; crustaceans and various types of squid are also hunted.
What fish do emperor penguins eat?
Antarctic silverfish are the most common fish for emperor penguins, and baldness is also important. Fish are usually caught at a depth of up to 50 m (160 ft).
What animals do emperor penguins eat?
In addition to fish, squid are an important part of the emperor penguin’s diet, and the birds dive to depths of more than 500 meters to catch four different types of squid, all of which are less than 48 centimeters in length. These include hook squid and glacier squid.
Antarctic krill, tiny crustaceans that live below 100 meters (330 feet) below the ocean’s surface, are another important element in emperor penguin diets.
Emperor penguins go out to sea to hunt for food
What do emperor penguins drink?
Emperor penguins drink water in any form. If fresh water is available, they will happily drink it, and may even eat snow as a source of hydration.
The main source of water available is salty seawater, and emperor penguins rely on an adaptation to filter out the salt before it can be absorbed into the bloodstream.
The species has a so-called supraorbital gland, located above its eyes, where excess salt mixes with water and drips out through nasal passages at the top of the beak.
Are emperor penguins carnivores?
Emperor penguins are classified as carnivores because they feed on marine life and do not eat plants or other matter.
Emperor penguins are carnivorous species
How often do emperor penguins eat?
The food intake of emperor penguins depends on the time of year, with much more regular feeding in summer than in winter, when eggs are hatched. During the summer, emperor penguins can eat more than 1 kilogram (2 pounds) of food a day to build up vital fat and energy reserves that they will then rely on to survive the winter.
During the breeding season, male penguins stay in their terrestrial colonies to incubate their eggs. While the female hunts at sea for up to four months, the male has no access to food because he cannot leave the eggs unattended. During this period, an average of 115 days, the males lost 50% of their body weight.
If the females do not return after the chicks hatch, the males are in serious danger of starvation and, as a last resort, abandon their newly hatched chicks to return to the ocean to hunt for food.
What time of day do emperor penguins eat?
From dawn onwards, penguins hunt throughout the day and night. They may take a nap in the afternoon before returning to Antarctic waters to continue hunting later in the day.
How do emperor penguins forage?
Emperor penguins dive to depths of about 50 meters (160 feet) and can chase prey underwater for up to 20 minutes before needing to surface to breathe. They hunt by sight, chasing fish and krill, which they may then catch on the bottom of sea ice or when swimming through shoals of krill.
To catch squid, emperor penguins hunt at deeper depths and can grab prey up to 48 centimeters long with their curved beaks. Hunting at such depths allows emperor penguins to target food resources that other birds cannot.
Emperor penguins can spend 20 minutes underwater looking for prey
How do emperor penguins eat?
Fish, squid and crustaceans are caught by emperor penguins as they swim and are held firmly by the bird’s powerful beak and spiny tongue. Prey is swallowed whole.
What do emperor penguins eat in winter?
Male emperor penguins spend most of the winter brooding on land. During this time, they are fasted and cannot eat or drink, as this means leaving unhatched eggs unattended.
The females winter at sea, where the ocean’s surface is covered by large sheets of frozen ice, and they depend on catching anything from the frigid waters. Chase Antarctic krill under the ice and risk getting caught.
What do emperor penguins eat in summer?
During the summer, when fish stocks are most abundant, male and female emperor penguins hunt in open water, eating more than 1 to 1.5 kilograms (2 to 3 pounds) of fish per day, preparing for the coming winter foraging less readily available ( or absent in the case of hatching males).
What do little emperor penguins eat?
The hatching of emperor penguin eggs is completely done by the male, and the female returns from hunting in the ocean to coincide with the hatching time. If a chick hatches before the female arrives, it is fed by a substance called “crop milk” secreted in the male penguin’s esophagus.
Usually, female emperor penguins arrive at the breeding grounds before or shortly after the chicks hatch and are able to feed their chicks with regurgitated fish and krill.
The couple then switch roles, with the male going out to sea and returning shortly after, bringing back extra fish, which are then fed to his mate and their young.
Emperor penguin feeding its hungry chicks, Snow Mountain Emperor Penguin Colony, Antarctica
What do emperor penguins eat squid?
Emperor penguins prey on squid found in water about 500 meters (1,640 feet) below the surface. Four types of squid formed part of their daily diet: ice catfish, kondakovia, Antarctic pomegranate and Antarctic scarab. Squid with a mantle longer than 48 cm (18.9 in) are not hunted.
How often do emperor penguins poop?
Penguins are known to have very fast metabolisms and are reported to defecate approximately every 20 minutes.
Do emperor penguins have teeth?
Emperor penguins don’t have teeth; instead, their tongues and upper jaws are covered with sharp spines that allow them to get a firm grip on fish they catch. The edges of their beaks are also very sharp and curved, which allows them to grab prey with little chance of escape.
Emperor penguins at Mawson Station, Antarctica
Do emperor penguins eat krill?
Antarctic krill is part of the diet of emperor penguins, but not as important as fish and squid.
Do emperor penguins eat plankton?
Plankton and other microscopic fish likely formed part of the emperor penguin’s diet. Antarctic krill are considered plankton, as important as fish and squid.
Do emperor penguins eat their babies?
Emperor penguins feed on fish and do not eat young penguins. If the egg fails or the chick starves to death, the parent will abandon the site but will not eat the egg or the dead chick.
Do emperor penguins eat phytoplankton?
Emperor penguins are carnivores, they only eat fish, squid and crustaceans. Plant life, including algae and phytoplankton, does not form part of their diet.
Do emperor penguins eat birds?
Emperor penguins do not eat birds, only fish and other aquatic animals. They cannot hunt on land, nor do they hunt seabirds.
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