Emperor Penguin

     The Emperor Penguin is the largest of the penguins. They reach a height of nearly four feet (over one meter) and can weigh up to 90 pounds (40 kg). Emperor Penguins are the only species of bird that never sets foot on dry land, living exclusively on the Antarctic ice pack and in the surrounding sea. Like all penguins, Emperors are flightless, and use their modified wings as flippers to swim through the water. Emperor Penguins feed on fish, squid, and crustaceans and can dive deeper and remain under water longer than any bird. The average dive is over 700 feet (212 meters) for up to 18 minutes, but a record has been set at 1,700 feet (515 meters) for 22 minutes. When traveling across the ice, they toboggan on their bellies, using their flippers to push themselves along.

     During the perpetual darkness of the Antarctic winter, Emperor Penguins gather in large colonies on the pack ice. The female lays a single egg. Soon after laying, she passes the egg to her mate and leaves for the sea to feed.

     The male incubates the egg by balancing it on top of his feet and covering it with a thick roll of skin and feathers called the "brood pouch." The temperature in the brood pouch is a constant 96.8 degrees F (36 degrees C). The incubation period runs through the coldest months of winter when temperatures drop to as low as minus 80 degrees F (27 degrees C) and winds reach velocities of up to 112 miles ( 190 kilometers) per hour. For added warmth and protection, the incubating males will huddle together in huge bunches. They take turns moving to the inside of the group, where they are protected from the icy wind.

     Males do not eat during this incubation period, and by the time the females return, two months later, the males will have lost up to half their body weight. Females return to the colony at roughly the same time that the eggs hatch. If the chick hatches before the return of the female with food, the male can actually produce a "milk," by a gland in his esophagus, to feed the chick for a short period of time.

     With the return of the female, the male takes his turn in the sea to fatten up, before coming back to help feed the growing chick. The young chick stays sheltered in its mother’s brood pouch for two months. If a young chick falls out of the safety of this warm spot, it can freeze to death in as little as two minutes. As the chicks get older, the adults leave them in groups while they go fish. By January, as the ice begins to break up, the chicks are finally mature enough to head out independently to the open sea.

     What patience and faith it must take for the male Emperor Penguin to stand on the freezing ice pack in the cold, dark, winter for two months, not knowing if his mate will survive to relieve him of his brooding duties. We Christians need such patience and faith to endure times of trial and darkness while waiting on our Lord’s return. "God’s chosen servants should meet with courage and patience the trials and sufferings that befall them through reproach, neglect, and misrepresentation. They should continue to discharge faithfully the work God has given them to do, ever remembering that the prophets of old and the Saviour of mankind and His apostles also endured abuse and persecution for the Word’s sake." Prophets and Kings, 437

David Arbour