Penguin Poop Makes So Much Laughing Gas That Scientists Studying It Go ‘Completely Cuckoo’

Peter Macdiarmid, Getty Images
Peter Macdiarmid, Getty Images

To study ecosystems at the bottom of the world, scientists must learn to deal with extreme weather and geography. One thing a group of researchers visiting the island of South Georgia wasn't prepared for was the intoxicating effects of penguin poop, Gizmodo reports.

South Georgia sits in the South Atlantic north of Antarctica and east of South America, and in recent years, it's become a great place to study king penguins and their impact on the environment. As glaciers on the island have retreated due to climate change, an influx of penguins has filled the newly open land. The island supports a king penguin population of about 300,000 breeding adults today. The uptick in penguins has resulted in more penguin poop, with the poop releasing more of the same greenhouse gases into the air that are causing glaciers to the melt in the first place.

The environment isn't the only thing susceptible to the gases from penguin guano. Scientists from Denmark and China were in South Georgia to study this cycle when they started to feel sick and loopy. They had spent the day breathing nitrous oxide, which is more commonly known as laughing gas.

“After nosing about in guano for several hours, one goes completely cuckoo. One begins to feel ill and get a headache,” Bo Elberling, a researcher from the Center for Permafrost at the University of Copenhagen, told the AFP. He and his colleagues published a study on the relationship between glacial retreat, penguin activity, and greenhouses gases in the journal Science of The Total Environment.

King penguins eat a lot of fish and krill, both of which are high in nitrogen. But penguin feces on its own doesn't contain the same stuff that dentists give their patients. When the guano enters the ground, microbes in the soil convert it to nitrous oxide. In addition to making it hard for visitors to breath, the gas is bad for the air. The polluting effect of nitrous oxide is 300 times higher than that of carbon dioxide. According to the study, there isn't enough nitrous oxide produced on South Georgia to have a global impact, but as the penguin population grows, so will the amount of waste they leave behind.

[h/t Gizmodo]

Wayfair’s Fourth of July Clearance Sale Takes Up to 60 Percent Off Grills and Outdoor Furniture

Wayfair/Weber
Wayfair/Weber

This Fourth of July, Wayfair is making sure you can turn your backyard into an oasis while keeping your bank account intact with a clearance sale that features savings of up to 60 percent on essentials like chairs, hammocks, games, and grills. Take a look at some of the highlights below.

Outdoor Furniture

Brisbane bench from Wayfair
Brisbane/Wayfair

- Jericho 9-Foot Market Umbrella $92 (Save 15 percent)
- Woodstock Patio Chairs (Set of Two) $310 (Save 54 percent)
- Brisbane Wooden Storage Bench $243 (Save 62 percent)
- Kordell Nine-Piece Rattan Sectional Seating Group with Cushions $1800 (Save 27 percent)
- Nelsonville 12-Piece Multiple Chairs Seating Group $1860 (Save 56 percent)
- Collingswood Three-Piece Seating Group with Cushions $410 (Save 33 percent)

Grills and Accessories

Dyna-Glo electric smoker.
Dyna-Glo/Wayfair

- Spirit® II E-310 Gas Grill $479 (Save 17 percent)
- Portable Three-Burner Propane Gas Grill $104 (Save 20 percent)
- Digital Bluetooth Electric Smoker $224 (Save 25 percent)
- Cuisinart Grilling Tool Set $38 (Save 5 percent)

Outdoor games

American flag cornhole game.
GoSports

- American Flag Cornhole Board $57 (Save 19 percent)
- Giant Four in a Row Game $30 (Save 6 percent)
- Giant Jenga Game $119 (Save 30 percent)

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

No Squawking, Please: A Backyard Bird Library Is the Star of This Livestream

Bird Library, YouTube
Bird Library, YouTube

Many people discovered backyard birding when they were quarantined in their homes at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even if you have a vibrant wildlife population in your area, the Bird Library webcam is worth checking out. As Atlas Obscura reports, the bird feeder at the focus of the livestream resembles a tiny library where feathered guests can misbehave.

Librarian Rebecca Flowers and woodworker Kevin Cwalina were inspired to build the Bird Library in 2015. Located in a backyard in Charlottesville, Virginia, it features a miniature reading chair, bookshelves, and a reception desk. The decorations are even updated to match the seasons; the feeder currently sports a banner that says "Summer Reading." The main differences setting it apart from a real library are the bird seed scattered on the floor and the avian visitors.

The Bird Library attracts a diverse collection of patrons. Sparrows, cardinals, and mourning doves have been recorded perching on the librarian's desk and checking out the reading materials. The occasional squirrel has also been known to stop by.

Live video of the feeder streams on the Bird Library's YouTube page and website 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can play the video below to check in on the current guests. If the backyard Bird Library has inspired you to find birds closer to home, here's some gear for beginner naturalists.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]