Thermal imaging helps researchers analyze body heat of penguins

Using thermal imaging technology, Glasgow University (Glasgow, UK) scientists have shown that penguins benefit from an unusual phenomenon to stay warm during Antarctic winters.

Thermal imaging helps researchers analyze body heat of penguins
Thermal imaging helps researchers analyze body heat of penguins

Using thermal imaging technology, Glasgow University (Glasgow, UK) scientists have shown that penguins benefit from an unusual phenomenon to stay warm during Antarctic winters.

Despite living in one of the coldest places on Earth where temperatures can reach -40C, Emperor penguins retain their body heat not only because of their plumage and layers of fat but also because the surface of their feathers are colder than the surrounding air.

After studying penguins in Adélie Land, scientists from Glasgow's Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health & Comparative Medicine and the Université de Strasbourg, determined that the surface temperature of the birds was four degrees cooler than the surrounding air. The only parts of the penguins warmer than the air were the eyes, beaks and feet. Only the eyes were warmer than freezing.

Penguins maintain a core temperature of around 36.9C when incubating their young and, like any animal, will lose heat to the surrounding air as a result of thermal radiation, when heat from their warm bodies transfers to the colder air.

However, because the plumage is colder than the surrounding air, computer simulations showed this 'cold coat' may gain them back a little heat from the warmer air circulating around them. Though this regained heat is unlikely to reach their skin, it could help reduce some of the heat loss from the body by thermal radiation.

The findings were reported in the latest edition of the journal Biology Letters. More information is available here.

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-- Dave Wilson, Senior Editor, Vision Systems Design

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