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Traffic jams lend insight into emperor penguin huddle

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Posted December 17, 2013
Traffic jams lend insight into emperor penguin huddle
Emperor penguins maintain the tight huddle that protects them from the harsh conditions of an Antarctic winter with stop-and-go movements like cars in a traffic jam, a new study has shown. Credit: Daniel Zitterbart
Emperor penguins maintain the tight huddle that protects them from the harsh conditions of an Antarctic winter with stop-and-go movements like cars in a traffic jam, a new study has shown.

By using a mathematical model that recreated the positions, movements and interactions of individual penguins in a huddle, researchers have revealed that an individual penguin only needs to move 2 cm in any direction for its neighbour to react and also perform a step to stay close to it.

These movements then flow through the entire huddle like a travelling wave and play a vital role in keeping the huddle as dense as possible to protect the penguins from the cold; the wave also helps smaller huddles merge into larger ones.

The results have been published today in the New Journal of Physics.

In a previous study, the same group of researchers studied time-lapse videos and showed that instead of remaining static, penguins in a huddle actually move every 30-60 seconds, causing surrounding penguins to move with them.

Read more at: Phys.org

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