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Emperor penguin huddles are more complicated than we thought

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If you watched March of the Penguins (and who hasn’t?) then you may recall the part of the documentary that shows how an emperor penguin huddle works, with those individuals bearing the brunt of the cold at the outside slowly shifting in toward the warmth of the center. Everyone rotates to get a turn at the toasty interior. But recent research shows that actually, the huddle is even more complex.

If you watched March of the Penguins (and who hasn't?) then you may recall the part of the documentary that shows how an emperor penguin huddle works, with those individuals bearing the brunt of the cold at the outside slowly shifting in toward the warmth of the center.

Photo: Volt Collection/Shutterstock

PhysOrg reports that, “the researchers discovered that penguin huddles don’t last very long because the penguins actually get too hot.”

With a series of video recordings from 2005, 2006 and 2008, the researchers found that huddles only last up to a few hours, with some huddles as short as 12 minutes. The reason is that penguins are so good at keeping warm that the inside of the huddle can reach up to 100°F. Usually penguins break off the huddles in order to cool off, with some penguins eating snow to cool off faster.

Another interesting element to the huddles that the team discovered is that it is often a single penguin — and often one from the outer edge of the huddle — that breaks off and causes the entire huddle to disperse.

So rather than feeling sorry for those penguins at the outside of the huddle who look so cold, we can rest easy knowing just how easily emperor penguins can create cozy conditions for themselves when they get together!

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