Jellyfish and other gelatinous sea creatures aren't the most energy-rich prey on the food chain – but, penguins prefer to snack on them anyway.
Recent studies have suggested that penguins may accidentally consume these low calorie animals when hunting other food sources, such as fish or crustaceans.
The team fitted the penguins with thumbdrive-sized video recorders, tracking the birds at seven breeding sites in the southern oceans – or, oceans south of 30 degrees S latitude. In the extensive footage, the researchers spotted nearly 200 instances of penguins attacking the gelatinous ocean creatures, dubbed 'gelata.'While other large animals, such as sea turtles and ocean sunfish, are known to thrive on a diet of jellies, the researchers say this is surprising behaviour for penguins, who are warm-blooded animals with high energetic demands.'It is hard to believe that penguins, which are endothermic animals and thus need fair amounts of energy from their food to keep their bodies warm, could find any benefit in eating relatively energy-poor prey like jellyfish, especially in freezing Antarctic waters,' Jean-Baptiste Thiebot, a postdoctoral fellow with Japan's National Institute of Polar Research and lead author on the study, told National Geographic.'Crustaceans, and more so fish, contain much more energy per gram, [and] seem much more adequate to satisfy the energy demand of penguins.'This especially applies for those raising chicks, the researcher noted.
According to the researchers, gelata accounted for more than 1 percent of the daily needs for Adélie, Magellanic, and yellow-eyed penguins, and up to 2 percent for little penguins.
Research conducted using cameras on the animals has revealed Adelie penguins target jellyfish with prominent genitals even when their traditionally preferred food of small shrimp-like crustaceans known as krill are available.
It is thought the reason behind the saucy snacking is the high carbon and protein content present in active sex glands.
The findings, revealed in a new publication by scientists from the French and Japanese national Antarctic programmes, come from research conducted by fitting penguins with tiny cameras to see what they got up to under the sea ice and was backed by conservation charity WWF.
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