The coasts of the vast continent fringing the Antarctic Ocean are the home of the Emperor penguin, the largest species of penguin. Its entire body is covered by dense plumage. The wings are very short in relation to the body, and the legs, completely feathered, terminate in comparatively small feet. It feeds on many kinds of marine animals, particularly the shoals of squid.
The Emperor penguins begin to arrive at their breeding sites in small groups. It is the only species that breeds in Antarctica during the southern winter. In shape and markings it is very similar to the king penguin, but it can be twice its weight. Rarely found ouside Antarctic waters, it feeds among broken sea ice, diving to depths of up to 1,750 ft (530 m). It can remain underwater for as long as 20 minutes, and may travel up to 600 miles in search of food.
The Emperor penguin breeds in scattered colonies on the ice itself. Adult females lay a single egg in early winter, and then transfer it to the male. During the winter darkness, while the females feed at sea, the males huddle together with their eggs balanced on their feet and protected within a fold of feathery skin. The incubation period lasts about two months. By the end of it, the males have lost about half of their body weight. The females return when the eggs are almost ready to hatch, releasing the males, who head out to sea. Once the chicks have molted and acquired proper plumage, they quit the colony for the open sea where there is now an abundance of food.