New parents face the challenge of balancing sleep and monitoring their newborns. A study found that penguins take numerous mini-naps throughout the day to accomplish this.
Chinstrap penguins living in Antarctica must constantly protect their eggs and offspring in loud and crowded colonies. To remain alert, they take short, frequent naps throughout the day, lasting only four seconds each. This was discovered by researchers and published in the journal Science on Thursday.
These brief periods of “microsleeps,” amounting to approximately 11 hours per day, seem to provide sufficient energy for the parents to function for several weeks.
According to Niels Rattenborg, a sleep researcher from the Max Planck Institute for Biological Intelligence in Germany and co-author of a recent study, these penguins resemble tired drivers as they constantly blink their eyes open and shut for extended periods of time.
He stated that it’s remarkable how they can function well and effectively raise their offspring.
Chinstrap penguins are named after the narrow strip of black feathers on their faces that resembles a chinstrap. They typically lay eggs in pebble nests during the month of November. Similar to other penguin species, both parents take turns caring for the eggs and chicks. While one parent stays with the offspring, the other goes out to catch food for the family.
During the breeding season, adult organisms do not encounter many threats from predators. However, a type of large bird known as brown skuas preys on eggs and young, fluffy gray chicks. There is also a possibility of other adults attempting to take pebbles from the nests. Therefore, the dedicated parents must constantly remain vigilant.
The sleeping habits of chinstrap penguins in an Antarctic breeding colony were monitored by scientists using sensors that record brain activity. Data was gathered for 14 adult penguins over a span of 11 days on King George Island near Antarctica’s coast.
The concept for the research was conceived by Won Young Lee, a biologist at the Korean Polar Research Institute, who observed penguins blinking and dozing off during his lengthy field observations. However, the team required brain wave recordings to verify their sleep patterns.
“He stated that microsleeps serve as a means of restoration for these penguins, without which they would not be able to endure.”
During non-breeding seasons, the researchers did not gather sleep data. However, they propose that the penguins may sleep in extended periods during other times of the year.
According to Paul-Antoine Libourel, a sleep researcher at the Neuroscience Research Center of Lyon in France and co-author of the study, it is currently unknown if microsleep provides the same benefits as longer, uninterrupted sleep. Additionally, they are unsure if other penguin species also experience fragmented sleep patterns.
Researchers have recorded several animal species that possess unique sleeping abilities. For example, frigatebirds are able to rest half of their brain while in flight, while northern elephant seals can take short naps lasting 10 to 15 minutes during deep dives.
According to researchers, the microsleeps of chinstrap penguins seem to be a unique and extreme behavior.
“Penguins live in a high-stress environment. They breed in crowded colonies, and all their predators are there at the same time,” said Daniel Paranhos Zitterbart, who studies penguins at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts and was not involved in the study.
The act of microsleeping is a remarkable adaptation that allows for nearly constant alertness, according to him.
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