Penguin Poop

I’m always amazed at the things you find on the Internet.  Consider, for example, this abstract from a scholarly paper I stumbled across while reading up on Antarctica, a place I hope to travel one day (hopefully soon.) 

I am so very glad, by the way, that I chose a different profession than the authors of this article…


Chinstrap and Adelie penguins generate considerable pressures to propel their faeces away from the edge of the nest. The pressures involved can be
approximated if the following parameters are known: (1) distance the faecal material travels before it hits the ground, (2) density and viscosity of the material, and (3) shape, aperture, and height above the ground of the orificium venti. With all of these parameters measured, we calculated that fully grown penguins generate pressures of around 10 kPa (77 mm Hg) to expel watery material and 60 kPa (450 mm Hg) to expel material of
higher viscosity similar to that of olive oil. The forces involved, lying well above those known for humans, are high, but do not lead to an energetically wasteful turbulent flow. Whether a bird chooses the direction into
which it decides to expel its faeces, and what role the wind plays in this, remain unknown.

And what a travesty it is that we don’t know.  When will this subject get the serious attention it deserves?  In the meanwhile, the next time someone asks you to estimate the colonic pressure of a Chinstrap penguin, you will know to ask, “Do you mean for expelling watery material, or for something more viscous?”

And yes, you may laugh now, but I’m betting that the next time you’re 15 feet upwind of a nesting penguin, this information will be of more than academic interest to you.

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