Featured Image Credit: Pierre Chevaldonné / CNRS / IPEV
By: Kira Krall
Jean-Baptiste Thiebot and his colleagues from around the world ventured to the Southern Ocean breeding colonies of four different penguin species. They strapped cameras to 106 individual penguins to figure out what exactly the marine birds like to eat. Much to the scientific world’s surprise, the cameras documented almost 200 cases of penguins preying on jellyfish and their gelatinous counterparts.
Any penguin predation on the wiggly marine organisms was previously thought to be an accident or even just a case of a curious penguin. However, this video evidence shows that the predators are indeed targeting gelatinous critters as a food source. Watch the footage from the research project below!
These populations of penguins join the jelly-eating ranks of the leatherback sea turtles, oceanic sunfish, and even humans. The jelly-like organisms that became a penguin feast were nicknamed “gelata” by the researchers. The prey items were from all different taxonomic groups but shared the same gelatinous structure.
Creatures that make up this jelly group are practically the iceberg lettuce of the oceanic environment. The low caloric value of a jelly creature means that an animal has to eat quite a few of them to gain any benefit. However, Thiebot and his research team discovered that the penguins knew exactly which gelata were worth the effort.
This article highlighted salps, a filter-feeding gelata that consumes primarily microscopic plants. Salps are abundant in the study site but the penguins didn’t bother with them. Instead, they hunted for carnivorous gelata like true jellyfish and comb jellies. Excluding the plant-eating jellies in favor of the meat-eating ones means that the smaller penguins can get up to 2% of their daily energy value from jellies alone. That’s quite a bit of energy from something that can be 95% water!