1.5m citizen scientists discover penguins need to use poo in order to breed

Images looked at by 1.5 million online volunteers flagged up images to aid scientists in the discovery

A citizen science project has found that penguins use their faeces to melt rocky breeding sites in order to lay their eggs.

The project of 1.5 million online volunteers, organised by the University of Oxford, clicked through 175,000 images of penguins and flagged up images showing strange or surprising behaviour in order to aid scientific discovery.

It suggests penguins form large groups before they start to breed, with the dark colour of their faeces attracting heat faster than the lighter colours of the surrounding snow, causing the area to melt faster.

The video below shows one year of the Cuverville Island Gentoo penguin colony on the Antarctic Peninsula.

Researchers hope that over the coming year, with 500,000 new images for volunteers to look at, and cameras that will take photos every minute during the breeding season, that they will learn more about the animals through Penguin Watch.

Dr Tom Hart of Oxford University’s Department of Zoology, said: “'We hope these new cameras will reveal how often penguins feed their chicks and how long they have to go to sea to feed in different regions.

“Until now, this has only been possible by putting GPS on penguins. The hope is that, by developing a non-invasive method, we can track penguins across the whole of the Southern Ocean without researchers needing to disturb them.”

“Time-lapse cameras have revolutionised our ability to collect data from a large number of sites simultaneously.”

Volunteers of Penguin Watch will be entered into a prize draw for the chance to win a trip to Antarctica to see the penguins in the flesh.

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