How do penguins survive and breed regularly in Antarctica despite the chill?

The subject is being studied by Dr. Julian Vincent of Reading University’s Biomimetics Centre, southern England, who hopes to learn the secret and adapt it for clothing.

 The idea of looking to nature for such answers is steadily becoming a science itself. The bones in a bird’s wing are powerful but incredibly light while spider silk is as strong as steel (in proportion) but enormously elastic and recyclable. “In nature the good designs eat the bad”, said Dr. Vincent.

            In Antarctica where temperatures reach minus 40 degrees Celsius, emperor penguins congregate to breed and produce a single egg which the male incubates. The penguins huddle together not eating for four months until the egg hatches.

            During that time they lose almost half their body weight. About 80 per cent of their insulation comes from their feathers which, it has been discovered, grow all over their body leaving no skin exposed.

            On land the birds use tiny muscles to erect the feathers forming a barrier of still air around their bodies. At the base of the feather is down, in which air is trapped close to the skin in small pockets. Each fiber has along its length a number of spikes, or nodes. When fibers from neighbouring plumes push into each other, the nodes buckle into loops producing a dense structure of tiny air pockets. By trapping the air, the penguin’s heat loss is drastically reduced.

            Dr. Vincent hopes to copy the essential features of the penguin’s insulation system and reproduce it in clothing.