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How Do Penguins Reproduce

Rohini Mohan
There are many species present within the genus of penguins and each of them have distinct nesting habits. It is fascinating to see how these flightless birds protect their eggs with their lives and withstand extreme whether conditions, while waiting for their mates to return...
Penguins are flightless birds found only in the icy cold terrains of Antarctica, New Zealand and parts of the Southern Hemisphere. There are several different sub species existing within the genus of penguins and all of them have their own distinct reproductive patterns and habits.
Many species fall within the same family, and have therefore not been specifically mentioned as they share common traits.

The Reproduction Cycle of Penguins

Emperor Penguins

These are the biggest penguins species found on earth and are found only in Antarctica. Emperor penguins attain maturity at the age of 3 years, but do not begin breeding until they are at least 4-7 years old.
They have a yearlong reproductive cycle, which starts in March - April. They have one mate each year, however, they may sometimes choose to remain with the same mate for several years. The female lays only 1 egg, which is transferred to the male for incubation in his brood pouch.
The male fasts for 115 days, out of which 64 days are spent supporting the eggs on its feet. The egg hatches before the females arrive from warmer waters, during which time the chick remains huddled in the father penguins pouch. The male feeds the chick regurgitated food, which has been specifically stored for the newborn and the father.

King Penguins

The second largest penguins, King penguins take 3 years to mature completely, but initiate breeding from the age of 6 years. This species is serially monogamous as well.
This species has a low breeding rate as most females will give birth only once in every two years. However, mating takes place annually. The reproduction cycle begins from September - November.
Not all females are successful at laying eggs each mating season. The ones who are successful lay 1 egg per year, which takes 55 days for incubation. Both the male and female participate in the incubation and share 6-18 days between themselves.
The hatching takes 2-3 days to complete and the chick continues to remain sheltered in the brooch pouch until they are strong enough to be left in creches or schools of chicks. The chicks take 14-16 months to become strong enough for setting off into the sea all by themselves.

Chinstrap Penguins

These penguins built nests in order to lay their eggs. Females lay 2 eggs per mating season and will build their nests on land and sometimes on icebergs.
Both the mates take 6 day shifts each to incubate the two eggs. The eggs take 37 days to hatch, after which the chicks remain nestled in their nest for the next 20-30 days. After this period the chicks become strong enough to join creches. These chicks grow rapidly and become mature enough to go into the sea by the 60th day after hatching!

Gentoo and Adelie Penguin

This two species of penguins prefer to make their nests using stones, from which they make circular mounds. These nests are unique because they can be as high as 20 cm and be 25 cm in size.
The males can appease the females by offering her nice stones for her nest and her to be eggs. These penguins are very possessive about their stones and will quarrel with clan members for ownership, in case someone tries to pick up a stone!
Each female lays 2 eggs and the incubation is shared between the mates. The eggs hatch after 35 days, after which the newborns stay in the nest for the next 30 more days. Soon after the chicks join creches and will be ready to be on their own in next 80-100 days.

Little Blue Penguin and White-flippered Penguins

These two species of penguins live in large colonies and will swap mates every mating season. They make their nests inside burrows, so as to protect themselves against foxes and cats.
Each female lays two eggs, which take 35 days to hatch. However, the second one hatches 2 days after the first one. Incubation takes place for 35-40 days, after which the chicks become independent within 70 days.
Other penguins with similar reproductive habits include:
  • Magellanic Penguins
  • Humboldt Penguins
  • Galapagos Penguin (also mate for life and are monogamous)
  • African Penguins
  • Yellow Eyed Penguins

Crested Penguins

Crested penguins (Eudyptes) have a number of sub species, which have been given here:
  • Fiordland Penguin
  • Royal Penguin
  • Macaroni Penguin
  • Rockhopper Penguin (Western, Eastern and Northern)
  • Snares Penguin
  • Erect-crested Penguin
All of these penguins lay their eggs in sand so as to keep the eggs warm. They all lay 2 eggs each, which take an average of 37 days to hatch. The weaker chick is most often than not killed by the stronger chick, as a result of siblicide.
In all these species the males look after the eggs for longer periods of 23 days at a stretch, while the females forage for food. The chicks grow independent within 70 days.
All species of penguins have been enlisted under endangered animals, because of the rate at which they are dying out. Global warming, melting ice caps, increasing temperatures and hunting has severely affected the overall populous of the penguin species.