Emperor Penguins Get Too Warm Even In The Cold Antarctic

When Temperatures Plummet to  -20C Penguins Can Still Overheat

Emperor Penguins survive some of the most aggressive and cold temperatures throughout an Antarctic winter. Temperatures can plummet well below -20C and to keep warm they huddle together in groups and preserve their body heat as they are so tightly packed. The evidence is that this may be too effective in preserving heat and can cause the little guys to overheat. So how do they regulate their temperature and could someone let my daughter know so she doesn’t have to switch the heating on as soon as the temperature “plummets” to +15C!

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The most obvious behaviour is that penguins on the outskirts regularly muscle their way inside the huddle.

That is easily understandable. Those on the outside of the huddle face the direct hit of Antarctica’s icy wind chill.

But there is something else going on. The penguins on the inside get too hot, so after a while they need a little room to cool off.


Penguins seeking to lose some body heat actually break huddles apart, say researchers in a new paper in the journal Animal Behaviour

Within the huddles, penguins barely lose any heat. The little they lose comes from their heads, or from breathing in icy air.

That means they regularly find themselves in toasty temperatures of 37.5 °C, which is significantly higher than they like.

“As a consequence, birds face the paradox that in a cold physical environment they sometimes need to dissipate excess heat,” the team report.

By closely analysing penguin huddles, the team discovered that each huddle is constantly changing, both in response to the outside temperature and in response to penguins overheating.



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