The king penguin is the second largest of the penguin species, with a mature height of between 33 inches (85 cm) and 37 inches (95 cm) and a weight between 24 pounds (11 kg) and 33 pounds (15 kg). It is found on islands throughout the sub-Antarctic regions in the South Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans. Highly social animals, they live in colonies that can be made up of thousands of penguin pairs that are monogamous through the breeding season. The lifespan for a wild king penguin is between 15 and 20 years, and individuals have lived up to 40 years in captivity.
Often mistaken for emperor penguins, the smaller king penguins have a sleek frame that allows them to walk on land with ease instead of hopping like emperor penguins. Males and females are similar in appearance, with white bellies, dark, silver-gray backs, and darker heads. Both sexes have bright orange patches on their throats and ears, and have pink patches on their beaks. Adults are slightly darker than juveniles, but their appearances are similar.
The thick plumage of king penguins protects them from cold temperatures both on land, where they care for their young, and in the water, where they primarily hunt. The outer layer of feathers is waterproof, with an oily texture. Three inner layers of feathers provide insulation from the bitter temperatures; king penguins also huddle together for warmth from the other members of their colony.
King penguins have the longest breeding season of any type of penguin, and every cycle results in a single chick from a pair of monogamous parents. A single egg is laid and passed from female to male and back again; one parent cares for the egg and regulates the temperature while the other parent forages for the pair. Once the egg hatches, the cycle continues for about three weeks. Then the chick is herded together with other chicks of a similar age, and both parents continue to bring their chick food until it is self-sufficient, up to 60 weeks later.
Incredibly energy-efficient when swimming, a king penguin is able to travel hundreds of miles to forage for food. They survive on a diet of mainly fish along with some cephalopods and occasionally crustaceans. In turn, adults are hunted by killer whales and seals, while eggs and chicks can be prey for shorebirds. The king penguin was also once hunted by humans for oil and flesh, and the eggs were harvested for food. Laws against poaching were enacted in 1905 and 1959.