The university of life

The Jet Propelled Penguin

Penguins are extremely talented birds. Not only are they adapted to an oceanic life extremely well and fly underwater as easy as their flying ancestors did in the air. Actually they probably fly better than them, since the penguin ancestor was probably a poor air-flyer as a tradeoff for being a good water-flyer.

Penguins also have other more 'hidden' talents. Penguins are capable of expelling their faeces with extreme force therefore avoiding fouling their nest and themselves. Recently researchers found that penguins can shoot their droppings (or shootings) as far as 40 cm away. The researchers calculated that the birds can generate a pressure of up to 60 kilopascals (Polar research, vol 27, p56).

We find the explanation that penguins shoot their poop to prevent fouling the nest unsatisfactory. Penguins are not exactly known for their gigantic sized nests. It seems therefore unlikely that they need to shoot their dropping further than other birds. We propose that the ability to shoot the dropping (or shooting) extremely far is merely a secondary function.

The primary function reflects an adaptation to oceanic life. The excretory apparatus of the penguin acts as a jet propulsion system (water jet) in cases where extra speed is needed. In a confrontation with a predator a little bit of extra speed could mean the difference between life and death. It is already known that many animals soil themselves in a life threatening situations. From this it is only a small step to increase the pressure of faeces release in such a situation. Any penguin which had a slightly higher anal pressure would have a slight Darwinian advantage. Hence penguins evolved their current jet engines.

It is unknown if penguins still use their jet engine still in this fashion or if the jet engine is now solely used for squirting poop as far away as possible. We are sending out an expedition this summer.


Professor at the UOL

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