Penguin-huddling, seen at high speed

You may believe that there’s nothing like the sight of thousands of penguins huddling together, viewed in time-lapse video. A new study says that there are quite a number of things like that, coordinated traveling waves being the essence of it. The Cosmic Log blog reports on that report:

It’s a great deal for the birds inside the tightly packed scrum, but how do the penguins on the periphery get their turn? Researchers spent a whole winter in 2008 tracking the movements of an Emperor penguin colony at Dronning Maud Land in Antarctica, and they present their answer this week in the open-access journal PLoS ONE. It turns out that the penguins engage in a series of continuous, coordinated shuffles that cause the birds on the outside to shift toward the interior, and push other birds toward the outside. “Every 30-60 seconds, all penguins make small steps that travel as a wave through the entire huddle,” the researchers write. “Over time, these small movements lead to large-scale reorganization of the huddle.”

The image below is from one of the videos that are part of the report. Click on it to see the video (which is large, and may take a while to load or download or do who-knows-what, depending on how your computer is configured):

In the caption to that video, the researchers say, a bit poetically (and a bit not): “As the temperatures gradually fell, larger and more stable huddles formed until nearly all the penguins aggregated in one large huddle.”