Apparent changes in body insulation of juvenile king penguins suggest an energetic challenge during their early life at sea

J Exp Biol. 2017 Jul 15;220(Pt 14):2666-2678. doi: 10.1242/jeb.160143.


Little is known about the early life at sea of marine top predators, like deep-diving king penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus), although this dispersal phase is probably a critical phase in their life. Apart from finding favourable foraging sites, they have to develop effective prey search patterns as well as physiological capacities that enable them to capture sufficient prey to meet their energetic needs. To investigate the ontogeny of their thermoregulatory responses at sea, we implanted 30 juvenile king penguins and 8 adult breeders with a small data logger that recorded pressure and subcutaneous temperature continuously for up to 2.5 years. We found important changes in the development of peripheral temperature patterns of foraging juvenile king penguins throughout their first year at sea. Peripheral temperature during foraging bouts fell to increasingly lower levels during the first 6 months at sea, after which it stabilized. Most importantly, these changes re-occurred during their second year at sea, after birds had fasted for ∼4 weeks on land during their second moult. Furthermore, similar peripheral temperature patterns were also present in adult birds during foraging trips throughout their breeding cycle. We suggest that rather than being a simple consequence of concurrent changes in dive effort or an indication of a physiological maturation process, these seasonal temperature changes mainly reflect differences in thermal insulation. Heat loss estimates for juveniles at sea were initially high but declined to approximately half after ∼6 months at sea, suggesting that juvenile king penguins face a strong energetic challenge during their early oceanic existence.

Keywords: Diving; Peripheral temperature; Seabirds; Subcutaneous fat; Thermoregulation; Vasoconstriction.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Appetitive Behavior / physiology
  • Body Temperature Regulation / physiology*
  • Diving / physiology
  • Female
  • Male
  • Molting
  • Seasons
  • Spheniscidae / growth & development
  • Spheniscidae / physiology*
  • Subcutaneous Fat