When penguins pooh

In December 2003, the scientific journal Polar Biology (Springer) published an article entitled Pressures produced when penguins pooh—calculations on avian defaecation.

Why Dr. Meyer-Rochow and Dr. Gál, the authors of the paper, decided to devote part of their lives to research on penguin guano is a mystery. However, their other articles such as Why Are Water-Seeking Insects Not Attracted by Mirages? or Food taboos: their origins and purposes show that they have an innate ability to get research funding for whatever topic they set their minds to.

The penguin guano article won the Ig Nobel Prize in 2005, in the Fluid Dynamics category. These awards are given to those investigations that first make people laugh and then make them think. Beyond curiosity, the article is interesting. Apparently, there are a couple of penguin species that expel their feces by applying pressure, which allows them to keep their nests clean while remaining on the spot.

Illustration of the penguin's position as it appears in the original article.

The research made it possible to calculate this pressure, which can reach up to 60 kPa (kilopascals). To get an idea, 60 kPa is a load equivalent to half the recommended pressure in a regulation soccer ball; or almost the pressure inside an incandescent light bulb; or even three times the pressure of the sound produced by the explosion of the Krakatoa volcano 160 km away.

So, let’s be cautious: the next time we see the inanimate gaze of a penguin in a TV documentary, let’s remember that under its tail a small Krakatoa is hiding, about to explode.

This post is an adaptation and translation from Spanish of an older article I wrote in 2015 on Blogger.

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