March of the PenguinsJune 25, 2015

There's much to learn about Antarctica, but the extreme weather will discourage humans. Australia is one of seven countries that have research stations in this continent, its landscape can be categorized as a desert. If not for its present location. However, scientists are able to witness a strange phenomenon. At the end of summer, emperor penguins leave the Southern Ocean and march to that part of the Antarctic shelf where the ice is thick enough to hold a colony of penguins. Mountains surround it, which protect these birds from the strong winds. (Most of the Antarctic landscape is elevated.) This is the call of nature.

This part of the shelf is the breeding ground of the emperor penguins, the heaviest of its species. Many will wonder why such an inhospitable place. They must keep a safe distance from leopard seals and other predators in the sea. Humans will be amazed by what emperor penguins must go through, which is the only way for the propagation of their species.

Here are some interesting facts about their annual ritual:

Emperor penguins are monogamous creatures. When the adult penguins congregate together, they will look for a partner. The females outnumber the males, so expect lots of preening from the female penguins. It won't be long before the colony turns into a large group of couples of penguins. The union ends when the chicks are old enough to fend for themselves. No one can tell if the same couple will meet the following year.

The male penguins must endure the extreme cold to protect the eggs. Once the female penguin hatches an egg, she must leave to feed for herself and the chick. She has been in the shelf for a season, losing weight along the way. She must hand the egg to her partner, but it must be done carefully and quickly. The egg can't withstand the extreme weather conditions. It will be perched on the male penguin's feet, his body providing warmth. When the worst part of winter hits Antarctica, the male penguins must huddle as close as possible.

The emperor penguins are the most devoted parents. During winter, the distance between the breeding ground and the sea is more than fifty miles. Imagine the hunger and fatigue that the female penguins must endure after hatching. Once they have their fill, they must return. It will be the turn of the male penguins (to replenish themselves). They will take turns until the chicks are old enough.

Not all chicks live to see the melting of the ice. Some eggs won't survive the biting cold, while others will be abandoned. (Some female penguins are killed and eaten by seals, while some male penguins couldn't stand their hunger any longer.) The final blizzard of the winter season can be fatal to some chicks, while others will be defenseless from other birds.

Emperor penguins have a huge digestive tract. This is the only explanation on why penguins can feed their chicks for a few months.

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