We could all laugh now, and a puff of penguin feces is definitely a way to do it.
According to a recent study published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, guano drops from king penguins in the sub-Antarctic region give rise to comical clouds of nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas.
And, as if the wobbly and formally dressed birds forever weren't fun enough, the force of their fecal droppings is enough to knock someone down with a tail feather, the researchers say.
"After snooping around in the guano for several hours, you go completely insane," lead author Bo Elberling said in a statement. "It is really intense."
In their study, Elberling, a professor in the Department of Geosciences and Natural Resources Management at the University of Copenhagen, and her colleagues observed how penguin activity on the South Antarctic island of South Georgia influences greenhouse gas emissions, which include nitrous oxide. The island is home to the world's largest population of king penguins, with an estimated count of 150,000 breeding pairs.
The researchers found that areas with high penguin activity had a 120-fold peak in nitrous oxide over more sober spots on the island. That amount of entertaining emissions is about a hundred times that of a newly fertilized Danish agricultural field, Elberling noted.
But tuxedo-clad wobbler turds don't lead to a fuss on their own. Squirting over the subantarctic soil, its guano is loaded with nitrogen-containing compounds from the meals of krill penguins and fish. After the splat, the bacteria in the soil convert this nitrogen content into nitrous oxide, transforming the guano that explodes to the fullest into clouds that destroy the intestines.
To add to the delight, Elberling notes that guano laughs aren't particularly troublesome for the planet as a whole. "Nitrous oxide emissions in this case are not enough to affect Earth's global energy budget," he said. But "our findings contribute to new knowledge about how penguin colonies affect the environment around them, which is interesting because colonies are generally becoming more and more widespread."
So far, the effects of penguins include much-needed comic relief, something we could certainly use more of.