Enlarge /. Royaume Uni, Iles de la Georgie du Sud, Plaine de Salysbury, Manchot Royal (Aptenodytes patagonicus) United Kingdom, South Georgia, Salysbury Plains, King Penguin (Aptenodytes patagonicus). (Photo by Sylvain CORDIER / Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
We could all use a good laugh now – and a hint of penguin poop is certainly one way to get it.
Guano drops from king penguins in subantarctic produce strange laughing gas clouds – also called laughing gas – according to a study recently published in Science of the Total Environment.
And – as if the jiggling, formally dressed birds were not already amusing enough – the power of their farcical faeces is enough to knock someone down with a tail feather, the researchers say.
"After snooping around in guano for a few hours, you go completely into the cuckoo," commented lead author Bo Elberling in a statement. "It's really intense."
In their study, Elberling, a professor at the Institute of Earth Sciences and Natural Resources Management at the University of Copenhagen, and colleagues investigated how penguin activity on the sub-Antarctic island of South Georgia affects greenhouse gas emissions, which include nitrous oxide. The island is home to the world's largest population of king penguins with an estimated 150,000 breeding pairs.
The researchers found that areas with high penguin activity showed a 120-fold increase in nitrous oxide over more sober locations on the island. According to Elberling, this amount of entertaining emissions is about a hundred times higher than that of a freshly fertilized Danish agricultural field.
But the shit of the tuxedo-lined wobblers doesn't let gas flow by itself. Your guano, which is sprayed onto the sub-Antarctic soil, is loaded with nitrogen-containing compounds from the meals of the penguins from krill and fish. After the splat, soil bacteria convert this nitrogen content into laughing gas and turn guano into shock-breaking clouds.
Elberling is pleased to note that guano giggling is not particularly problematic for the planet as a whole. "In this case, nitrous oxide emissions are not enough to affect the Earth's total energy budget," he said. "However, our results contribute to new insights into how penguin colonies affect the environment around them. This is interesting because colonies in general are becoming more common."
So far, the penguin effects have included some much-needed comic reliefs – something we could certainly use more of.