No land animal, and I think no sea animals either, stay in the antarctic during winter - except for one: The emperor penguin. These penguins not only stay there, but their prolonged stay involves 4 months of harsh winter, averaging -70$^o$C, no sunlight and no food for that period of time. And if that wasn't enough, then it's during that time that the emperor penguin male incubates the egg alone, left by his female mate. The male emperor penguins gather together to endure the antarctic winter.

My question thus becomes very obvious: Why does the emperor penguin stay in Antarctica during winter at all, and moreover, breed there during that time and incubates a precious egg in the harshest conditions on earth, while all other animals flee for their lives?

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    $\begingroup$ It could be that Antarctica is their niche, land that they don't have to compete with or worry about other animals stealing their eggs as much. Also when they incubate over the winter, the chicks will hatch and grow and be fed during the more productive summer. $\endgroup$
    – A L
    May 9, 2016 at 5:49
  • $\begingroup$ Scroll down to "why do emperor penguins breed in such severe conditions" coolantarctica.com/Antarctica%20fact%20file/wildlife/… $\endgroup$
    – userLTK
    May 13, 2016 at 7:42
  • $\begingroup$ They breed during the arctic winter because they are large enough to get their own food during the summer. $\endgroup$ Sep 14, 2017 at 2:06
  • $\begingroup$ Because that's when they're 'cool' ! $\endgroup$
    – Technetium
    Sep 15, 2017 at 5:46

1 Answer 1


From my experience working on sheep farms in Australia, it could very well be for similar reasons to why farmers breed their sheep at specific times in the year - they breed their sheep, so that by the time winter hits the lambs are large enough and have enough wool to make it through. The penguins lay their eggs in the dead of winter, but they then incubate for 65-75 days, by this time winter will have largely passed, and the chicks will be growing in the spring and then summer. By laying in the winter, the penguins avoid exposing their young to a winter for as long as possible.

Another point to consider: As you said, Antartica is largely devoid of other life during the winter. To me, what I hear is: There will be no predators to feed on the eggs, or attack the vulnerable penguins incubating their eggs.

Reference: http://www.antarctica.gov.au/about-antarctica/wildlife/animals/penguins/emperor-penguins/breeding-cycle


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