The Emperor Penguin is beginning to show signs of the annual catastrophic molt by fluffy tufts on the back of its head. A penguin’s molt is sometimes called a catastrophic molt, because unlike most birds that will molt a few feathers at a time, penguins molt all of their feathers all at once. And if you look at some of these pictures you can see that catastrophic is a good description, they often look like exploding pillows.
Molting is a 3 stage process and starts weeks before the penguin actually replaces any feathers. Their bodies are making the new feathers while they are gorging themselves on fish which they must do to increase body weight to endure the 2nd stage. Penguins are not waterproof when they molt, so in stage 2 they stay on land for 2-3 weeks fasting until the new feathers have emerged from below the skin. During that time they will not eat, so a few weeks prior to the molt they will double or even triple their food intake to build up a fat reserve to live off of while they are on land. Stage 3 involves returning to the sea to replenish lost body weight.
The Adult Adelies will begin their molt as soon as the chicks have reached adult plumage. The chicks will then fend for themselves.
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