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Reel of the Emperor's Egg

Penguin Day

Apr 25

Other Scottish Country Dances for this Day

Today's Musings, History & Folklore

"It is very difficult not to be excited by 10,000 penguins."

~ David Attenborough

Should you happen upon 10,000 penguins yourself, you may excitedly refer to them as colony, a rookery or a waddle, but these terms are for a group of penguins on land. A group of penguins floating in the ocean is called a raft! Even a single penguin can engender huge excitement! An incredibly rare all-black emperor penguin was spotted by filmmaker David Attenborough's crew while filming in the Antarctic for his 2019 BBC America Dynasties series. Nicknamed 'the rarest penguin on Earth,' this bird did not have a white underbelly but instead was covered entirely in black feathers, caused by a rare genetic mutation called melanism, extremely unusual in emperor penguins. All-black penguins are so rare there is practically no research on the subject – biologists guess that perhaps one in every quarter million of penguins shows evidence of at least partial melanism, whereas this penguin appeared to be entirely melanistic! One slang term for the tuxedo in formal dress is "penguin suit". Now we know there are both Black Tie and White Tie options even for penguins on formal occasions. 🐧

Reel of the Emperor's Egg

World Penguin Day is celebrated on April 25th!   There are believed to be 17 penguin species, ranging from the Little Blue Penguin to the mighty Emperor Penguin, all native to the southern hemisphere.

Emperor Penguins are the tallest species, standing nearly 4 feet tall. 

Emperor penguins breed almost exclusively on sea ice and so are perhaps the only species of bird that never sets foot on land. They begin their breeding cycle when other Antarctic penguins have finished theirs, at the end of April to May. Other smaller penguins at this time head north away from the encroaching winter while the Emperors head south into it. They seem to choose very dramatic sites, a large flat area where they can waddle when carrying their egg or chick on their feet surrounded by high ice cliffs or icebergs that help to give a little shelter from the winds.

Some penguin species create nests for their eggs out of pebbles and loose feathers, but Emperor Penguins are an exception: They incubate a single egg each breeding season on the top of their feet. Under a loose fold of skin is a featherless area with a concentration of blood vessels that keeps the egg warm.


After the female lays the egg, her nutritional reserves become depleted and she must return to feed in the ocean for two months. This leaves the responsibility of keeping the egg warm through the freezing Antarctic winter to the father.  The father spends the two months holding the egg precariously between the tops of his feet and his brooding pouch, without feeding, throughout the brutal winter (when freezing winds can reach 120 mph). If he moves too suddenly or the egg becomes exposed to the freezing temperatures, the chick will perish.   Sometimes if a chick dies, a female penguin will kidnap the chick of another.

For more on this dance's inspiration, natural historian David Attenborough's documentaries, including his newest one on penguins, Dynasties (2018), click the penguin chicks to see one of the rarest penguins on earth, an all black emperor penguin.

Reel of the Emperor's Egg
Reel of the Emperor's Egg

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