A Moment of Science

Down…Set…Penguin

Ever wonder what penguins do all day? Learn more on this Moment of Science.

Adelie penguins on shore

Photo: mark van de wouw (flickr)

Penguins like these sometimes gather together in a "football huddle" formation in order to conserve and share heat

Ever wonder what penguins do all day?

Sure, we see them at the zoo, kind of standing around, and you’ve probably seen penguins on PBS kind of standing around. Is it just that there’s not much going on at the south pole?

Not exactly. In fact, Emperor Penguins, the polar kind, go through a yearly cycle of activity, and if you were to see them during their brief summer season they would be quite active.

Mostly penguins swim for fish, eat them, and then swim for more fish. The penguin’s strategy for surviving the extremely cold and dark polar winter is to build up an enormous insulation of fat while the fishing is good, and then live off those excess calories for as much as five months at a time.

Another strategy penguins have developed across the centuries is a kind of football huddle employed in order to share heat. Recent studies have found that huddled penguins don’t have to burn up that layer of fat anywhere near as quickly as non-huddled ones.

In huddled penguins the metabolic rate, that is, the rate at which the body uses up its energy supplies, was as much as 17% lower than the other birds.

This kind of significant lowering of energy usage resembles a state of hibernation, similar in some ways to the long sleep bears go through even in much warmer climates. As with so many things in nature, what appears to us a rather lackadaisical bird is in fact a bird very well adapted to survival in its own element.

Stay Connected

What is RSS? RSS makes it possible to subscribe to a website's updates instead of visiting it by delivering new posts to your RSS reader automatically. Choose to receive some or all of the updates from A Moment of Science:

Support for Indiana Public Media Comes From

About A Moment of Science

Search A Moment of Science