Penguin parenting secret: Adult poop benefits the babies

Behold the power of poop! Penguins can melt an entire sheet of ice with the stinky stuff, researchers discover. Don't worry, it's for a good cause.

Danny Gallagher
CNET freelancer Danny Gallagher has contributed to Cracked.com, Mental Floss, Maxim, Break.com, Mandatory, Jackbox Games, Geeks Who Drink and many, many other publications in his never-ending quest to bring the world's productivity to a screeching halt. He lives and works in Dallas. Email Danny.
Danny Gallagher
2 min read

Penguin Watch

Poop may be one of the least popular substances on the planet next to the Bud Light Lime-A-Rita and whatever they stuff into Lean Pockets, but it can also do some surprisingly useful things (besides reminding you to wipe your feet before entering the house).

Take, for instance, penguins of the Antarctic, who actually use the stuff to clear away icy land so they can get busy making babies.

The discovery emerged from video taken as part of the University of Oxford's "Penguin Watch" project, which in conjunction with the Australian Antarctic Division has been monitoring colonies of penguins in Antarctica for the past year. The citizen science project follows the behaviors and movements of almost 100 penguin colonies to learn more about the human impact of climate change on their breeding and feeding habits as well as why certain species of penguins are dying off at faster rates than others, according to the University of Oxford.

A review of the year's worth of recordings by online volunteers turned up some surprising findings, including that one group of Gentoo penguins on the Antarctic Peninsula could actually melt the ice and snow with their excrement.

According to the university, the penguins gather in groups before the mating season begins and leave droppings on the icy ground to prepare a nursery for their offspring. Penguins prefer to hatch their eggs on rocky or sandy surfaces and usually have to transport pebbles or rocks to create a nest on the ice for their eggs to hatch.

So why does poop make such an effective defroster? It has to do with a combination of temperature and color.

The sun doesn't give off as much heat in the Antarctic and the dark brown color of the poop attracts and holds in the heat from the sun long enough to melt the snow and ice, according to the research, which was released for World Penguin Day on April 25.

However, these penguin-poop findings don't mean humans have found a perfect way to defrost their windshields on those cold winter mornings. And thank god for that, because carpooling is painful enough without having to explain why your car smells like a rendering plant.