Some birds fly to warmer climates in winter to stay warm. Other birds just stay in their natural habitat. For penguins, it is a matter of using pre-existent physical features that helps them survive the harsh winter.
During the winter season, penguins need to survive the hard conditions of short days and little or no food. But their bodies have adapted to withstand the freezing temperatures that surround them. But how do penguins stay warm? Very simply, they use their body fat. That’s right!
The body fat in penguins serves as insulation to keep them warm from the inside out. Insulation uses special non-conductive materials to maintain the drastic changes in temperature or prevent the release of heat. Fat generates heat in the form of special molecules. These special components in fat, when broken down, hold the heat inside a body. This layer of fat in the epidermal skin layer acts as a sealant from the outside world to the inner layer of the penguin.
In this way, penguins are able to withhold the freezing temperatures or blustering winds. Not only does fat serves as energy, but also it is the main supply for penguins to survive when food sources are low or scarce. Just like in hibernation, the fat is converted to energy to keep penguins warm and alive.
But unlike polar bears, penguins stay awake during the winter season. This is very crucial for the survival of penguins, especially for the male penguin. The male penguin is the partner that cares and maintains the egg while the female penguin hunts for food. It keeps the fertilized egg tucked inside its warm pouch incubating it until it’s ready to hatch.
The male penguin doesn’t have much chance to hunt or find food during this period. And it loses about 50% of their body weight during this nesting season. While predators are at large during the winter season, male penguins have to worry about keeping their precious possessions – their eggs, alive. In this family of penguins, everyone has a part to play. And to help them survive it all, they have fat as the insulation barrier.