Emperor penguins form a group huddle to share warmth as they wait for eggs to hatch. How do they coordinate?
Emperor penguins are the only vertebrates that breed during the austral winter where they have to endure temperatures below −45°C and winds of up to 50 m/s while fasting. From their arrival at the colony until the eggs hatch and the return of their mates, the males, who solely incubate the eggs, fast for about 110–120 days –. To conserve energy and to maintain their body temperature, the penguins aggregate in huddles where ambient temperatures are above 0°C and can reach up to 37°C –.
Huddling poses an interesting physical problem. If the huddle density is too low, the penguins lose too much energy. If the huddle density is too high, internal rearrangement becomes impossible, and peripheral penguins are prevented to reach the warmer huddle center. This problem is reminiscent of colloidal jamming during a fluid-to-solid transition . In this paper we show that Emperor penguins prevent jamming by a recurring short-term coordination of their movements.
What are the individual incentives in the huddle? It would seem that the dynamics would be governed by the need to prevent manipulation by a self-interested penguin.
Check out this video (unfortunately you have to click to download it, its about 30MB. there is no streaming version.)