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Why are penguins like traffic jams?

Dec 17, 2013

Scientists have been studying how the birds keep warm.

With temperatures as low as -50 degrees in the Antarctic, Emperor penguins huddle together to keep themselves warm while incubating their eggs. Scientists studying these groups had noticed how the penguins seemed to move in waves every 30 to 60 seconds, which they assumed was down to penguins on the outside trying to get further in. However, using a mathematical model developed to study traffic jams, a team from the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany discovered that the waves could start whenever a bird anywhere in the huddle moved, similar to the way cars in jams try and inch forwards into any available space. They found that this normally happened whenever a bird moved more than 2cm, which is twice the thickness of a penguin’s feathers, so that they can keep warm without squeezing together too much.

You can find out more about the study by watching the film above.

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