Photo: mark van de wouw (flickr)
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.