Penguins’ Unexpected Delicacy
An unexpected meal has been added onto Penguins’ daily menu – jellyfish, which may seem normal until you realize how low they fall in the marine food chain. With many stinging cells that could intoxicate predators and 95% of their bodies made of water, they are too low in calories to ever be considered valuable targets for most animals. As far as scientists are concerned, jellyfish’s biggest predators are various species of their own genre.
In a paper recently published by Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, however, researchers reported that jellyfish are being hunted down by penguins for the first documented time. Penguins, adorable yet ferociously carnivorous, typically prey on more energy-dense food such as fish and krill. To penguins, jellyfish are an inferior choice as each can only provide around one to two percent of a penguin’s daily energy needs.
“It’s hard to believe that penguins... could find any benefit in eating relatively energy-poor prey like jellyfish, especially in freezing Antarctic waters,” said Dr. Jean-Baptise Thiebot, the lead author on the study. In fact, back in 2013, marine biologist Simon Jarman and his team found that jellies and other gelatinous organisms made up almost 40 percent of some penguins’ diets. But the anomaly was soon disregarded as an accidental digestion rooted in penguin preys’ eating habits.
Now the footage confirms Dr. Jarman’s discovery and suggests that these untasteful and feathery jellyfish must be beneficial to carnivore-like penguins in some ways. One assumption proposed by Dr. Thiebot and his fellow researchers is that penguins feed on jellyfish to consume nutrients from minuscule animals that they otherwise cannot target. For instance, while nutritious and juicy crustaceans are too small for penguins to target, they are perfectly within the reach of jellyfish.
It is also possible that jellyfish contain nutrients that penguins need, not to mention that they are easier targets than fish or krill. Either way, the paper manifests nuances in animal behaviour and complexities in the marine ecosystem. “We need to clearly acknowledge that jellyfish and other gelatinous organisms may be a regular prey for a variety of marine predators,” said Dr. Thiebot.