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Waddle Waddle, Beep Beep: Penguin Traffic in Antarctica


Are you planning a road trip this year?

If so, there is a good chance you will find yourself stuck in a not-so festive traffic jam. Here’s a mind-hack to help you keep the gas-break-honk blues at bay: imagine the sea of cars is a huddle of penguins.

According to a study published in the New Journal of Physics, emperor penguins use stop-and-go movements similar to dense highway traffic to protect themselves from the harsh Antarctic winter.

Researchers from the Alfred Wegener Institute filmed penguin huddles from above, and studied the time-lapse footage looking for patterns. Every minute or so a single penguin waddled about 2 cm causing all the surrounding penguins to waddle 2 cm in response. These small movements sent waves of corresponding waddles through the entire huddle. This pattern is similar to that of cars making their way through dense traffic.

Lucky for penguins, they have no planes to catch or presents to open. The traffic doesn’t drive them bonkers. In fact, this stop-and-go movement is crucial to their survival in a habitat where temperatures can drop to -58 degrees Fahrenheit.

It turns out emperor penguins have a layer of insulating feathers. When they huddle up, they touch feathers, but they don’t press together. They need to keep this feathery layer fluffy and full of warm air. Every time it gets crushed, the chilly penguin moves to reestablish that precise amount of personal space.

Overtime these tiny movements add up. Small huddles migrate towards one another and merge, creating giant huddles. When it comes to fighting the cold: the bigger the huddle, the warmer the bird. Watch this video, and spot the patterns:

We have more penguin-related learning and entertainment at Niles Public Library. Check it out!



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