King Penguin – Aptenodytes patagonicus
Aptenodytes Genus – Great Penguins
Height: 31-35 in.
Weight: 26.5-35.25 lb.
The King Penguin has two subspecies: Aptenodytes patagonicus patagonicus and Aptenodytes patagonicus halli.
Life expectancy in the wild: 20 years.
Approximated Population: 4.5 Million
Population tendency: Increasing
IUCN Conservation status: LC
It is the second largest penguin, and it’s often confused with the Emperor penguin, but when looking at its main features, several differences will be clearly noted. King Penguin’s orange feathers on the sides of their head are colorful and brighter. Their beaks are the longest of the whole family of penguins and clearly longer than the emperor’s beak.
They have black heads with bright orange spots on the sides. Their beaks are long and black with orange marks on the sides and a tip that is slightly curved downwards. The plumage of the nape and parts of their neck and upper part of their back is silver to white gradient.
The area of the throat below the black face is dark orange and quickly softens into a pale yellow as it descends to their chest. Their legs are black and thick.
The only difference between males and females is size.
Chicks have a plumage ranging from brown to gray color, and they do not have the orange spots. Young individuals are almost the same color as adults but with paler plumage.
The only difference between males and females is size, being the latter smaller although it’s hard to identify them without additional information.
Where do they live?
King penguins can adapt to a wide range of weather conditions. Several subantarctic islands such as the Crozet Islands, Kerguelen, Falkland, Macquarie, Prince Edward, South Georgia and South Sandwich harbor their colonies. Some locate in southern Chile, and Argentina and solitary individuals have been spotted in Brazil, Uruguay, and South Africa as well as in the Antarctic continent.
Snowy and misty mountains enclose king penguins’ habitat most of the time, but they reside in warmer places with green landscapes and rocky coasts as well. On those locations, the weather is not extremely hostile.
Skills and Behavior
King Penguins often fight, and such animosity takes energy and time from them.
They share territory with other species of penguins, but they don’t interact with them regularly.
They can dive to a depth of 748 ft and stay submerged for up to seven minutes.
King penguins swim at an average speed of 5.2 mph and during winter they can go as far as 1,200 miles away from the coast to find food.
Chicks make sounds that are identified and answered by their parents. In the same way, couples find each other within the crowded and noisy colonies recognizing the frequency of their vocalizations.
They have no problem to share territory with other species of penguins as Gentoo, Magellan or Royal, but they don’t interact with them.
The length of the molting period varies, and it occurs before the breeding season. Depending when it happens, it may take only 18-19 days or as long as 32 days. During the process, their weight loss can reach up to 50%.
What do they eat?
King penguins prey on small to medium fish, especially the flashlight fish. They also prey on squid but not frequent.
Their hunting routine changes according to the occasion; at night they hunt in shallow waters and get only small amounts of food, during the day they go deeper where the food is abundant and easier to catch. As their energy expenditure is very high, they can eat up to 450 fishes in a single day.
When parents are still responsible for feeding their chicks, they can eat almost 8 pounds of food and regurgitate part of it to nourish their offspring.
They can eat up to 450 fishes in a single day.
Sexual maturity: From 3 to 5 years.
Incubation period: 55 days.
Normal clutch: One egg.
During courtship, males use their best skills to attract female attention. This ritual is a tremendous effort that can take from hours to a few days. The sign that indicates that both are ready to mate is when they both shake their heads at the same time.
King penguins do not build nests. Sometime during the months of November or December, females lay a single egg, which transfers to the father for protection and for keeping it warm in his leather pouch, a featherless space located above his legs. During this period, they become more aggressive and decisively protect their territory.
At birth, the chick weighs about 15.1 oz, and after that, parents take turns to protect it until it is big enough to defend itself.
Leopard seals and orcas are the number one enemies for adult king penguins in the ocean.
Sheathbills, skuas, and giant petrels are the main predators of chicks and eggs.
King Penguin range map
King Penguin Infographic!
Salomon, David. Penguin-pedia, photographs and facts from one man’s search for the penguins pf the world. Brown Books. 2011.
Garcia Borboroglu, Pablo. Penguins: Natural History and Conservation. University of Washington Press, 2015.
BioExpedition Publishing © 2017.