Emperor penguins huddle together to keep warm in the cold Antarctic winter -as anyone who's seen Happy Feet knows. The way penguins arrange themselves in clusters and move is quite efficient for a flock of birds waddling on ice. New Scientist compares it to the way cars move in a traffic jam. But if you've ever been in a traffic jam, you know that human drivers don't employ much logic at all.
The model also shows that rather than simply being caused by cold penguins pushing in, waves can originate from birds at many different spots in the huddle, as long as their steps exceed a 2-centimetre threshold distance. This is about twice the thickness of the penguin feather layer. "That means a perfectly compact huddle tries to maintain each bird's maximum fluffiness and insulation," Zitterbart says.
Waves that started in two different groups can merge, helping smaller huddles grow into large throngs of thousands of birds that can withstand temperatures as low as -50 °C and wind gusts of 200 kilometres per hour.
Further research involves putting fake high-tech eggs on the feet of some penguins who do not have real eggs, in order to measure penguin movement more precisely. And oh yes, enjoy the incongruous dramatic music that accompanies this science video. (via Time Newsfeed)