Research Output
Emperor penguin body surfaces cool below air temperature
  Emperor penguins Aptenodytes forsteri are able to survive the harsh Antarctic climate because of specialized anatomical, physiological and behavioural adaptations for minimizing heat loss. Heat transfer theory predicts that metabolic heat loss in this species will mostly depend on radiative and convective cooling. To examine this, thermal imaging of emperor penguins was undertaken at the breeding colony of Pointe Géologie in Terre Adélie (668400 S 1408 010 E), Antarctica in June 2008. During clear sky conditions, most outer surfaces of the body were colder than surrounding sub-zero air owing to radiative cooling. In these conditions, the feather surface will paradoxically gain heat by convection from surrounding air. However, owing to the low thermal conductivity of plumage any heat transfer to the skin surface will be negligible. Future thermal imaging studies are likely to yield further insights into the adaptations of this species to the Antarctic climate.

  • Type:


  • Date:

    31 December 2013

  • Publication Status:


  • Publisher

    De Gruyter Open

  • DOI:


  • ISSN:


  • Library of Congress:

    QH301 Biology

  • Dewey Decimal Classification:

    571 Physiology & related subjects


McCafferty, D. J., Gilbert, C., Thierry, A. M., Currie, J., Le Maho, Y., & Ancel, A. (2013). Emperor penguin body surfaces cool below air temperature. Biology Letters, 9, 20121192-20121192.



Metabolic heat loss; thermal imaging; thermoregulation; Antarctic;

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