Penguins are the Madonna of birds, widely depicted in pop culture and loved by various people around the world. There are many different species of penguins that inhabit a variety of habitats. They’re most well-known for their adorable attributes and waddling walk but like all birds, penguins poop and their waste plays a very important role in nourishing the surrounding ecosystem.
When they do it over land, their wastes accumulate and dry out, turning into what’s known as guano – which is then made use of by the fertilizer industry. Besides nourishing the ecosystem and being a fertilizer, guano is worth even more as a whole to fishing communities, planetary health, and the tourism industry.
We’ll be discussing the uses and beneficial impacts of penguin poop in this article, informing you with mind-boggling facts about penguins and their poop!
What Does Penguin Poop Look Like?
Penguin poop, or guano, has colors varying from white to pink. It’s pink when the penguin has been feasting on krill and white when it eats fish. Penguins poop after every twenty minutes and they do it so much that the color visibly affects the nesting sites. The poop comes out as a milky fluid in a long streak. They also excrete uric acid in a semi-solid paste form which is discharged alongside the guano.
What Do Penguins Use Their Poop For?
Many species of penguins including Humboldt Penguins use guano to build their nests. They scrape out layers of soil and poo using the claws on their feet to create burrows. These burrows offer protection for themselves and their chicks from the elements and any potential predators. Guano is nevertheless a brilliant resource for penguins.
How Do Penguins Poop?
Penguins poop right from the direction of their hindquarters and in doing so, they often do a little wiggle presumably to force the poop out of their cloacae. Penguins have significantly higher internal pressures than the pressure humans can exert when defecating. These aquatic birds can squirt arcing jets of poop to distances nearly twice the length of their bodies. Scientists have calculated that they can shoot ‘poop bombs’ to more than four feet of distance!
How Often Do Penguins Poop?
Penguins have a very fast metabolism which requires them to poop very frequently. They have to go as much as 7-8 times in an hour and approximately every twenty minutes!
What Do Penguins Eat?
Since they poop so many times, questions come to mind about what they generally like to feast on. Penguins are predominantly carnivores and eat meat. Their favorite meals of choice are krill, squids, crabs, and small fishes. They also sometimes eat crabs, cuttlefish, and shrimp.
Role In The Ecosystem
Wherever a seabird’s poop falls – over land or sea – its contribution will help nourish the surrounding ecosystem. A 2018 study found that the presence of seabirds on islands can increase the biomass of fish communities living around nearby coral reefs by 48%. Humans eat a lot of these fish too. Through their travels, all seabirds are excellent nutrient cyclers.
Emperor penguins have become famous for the way they shuffle up to 100 miles into Antarctica’s frozen interior to tend to Earth’s most improbable nursery. Guano from Adelie and other penguins has been linked to rich communities of lichen, moss, insects, and arachnids.
Scientists conducting research in the Arctic also found that ammonia from seabird waste can get sucked into the atmosphere. It then combines with water vapor and sulfuric acid to form particles big enough to kick off the creation of low-lying clouds. Incoming sunlight bounces off those clouds and back into space, keeping Arctic waters cooler.
Use As A Fertilizer
Guano is full of plant nutrients like nitrogen, calcium, phosphorus, and potassium which makes it great for use as a fertilizer. It has been used as a fertilizer and was highly sought after in the early 19th century before the use of synthetic fertilizers. The 19th-century guano trade played a pivotal role in the development of modern input-intensive farming. Archaeological evidence suggests that the use of seabird guano in agriculture dates back to 5,000 years ago.
According to a study published in the journal Trends in Ecology & Evolution, guano is still worth big bucks to the fertilizer industry. Farmers use up to $473 million worth of guano each year.
Guano has historically also been sought for the production of gunpowder and other explosives. In the U.S., guano was mined and harvested as early as the 1780s to manufacture gunpowder. During the American Civil War (1861-1865), the Union’s blockade of the southern Confederate States of America meant that the Confederacy resorted to mining guano to produce saltpeter.
Guano is also valuable for science and penguin conservation. Analyzing guano can tell us vital information about penguins and their conservation. Scientists can even estimate the number of penguins in a colony by tracking the abundance of guano.
Put simply, penguin poop is fascinating stuff. It not only provides penguins with a nest to shelter from the elements and to raise chicks but offers humans a highly effective way to fertilize crops. It also plays a very significant role in the ecosystem and has many beneficial impacts on the biodiversity of the oceans. Even more so, it provides a wealth of information about many penguin species and can even act as an indicator of the diversity of wildlife around them. As we talked about earlier, guano could even help keep the Arctic waters cool and potentially slow down global warming.