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J Sleep Res. 2000 Sep;9(3):255-9.

Tactile arousal threshold of sleeping king penguins in a breeding colony.

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  • 1Unité de Recherches sur les Adaptations Physiologiques et Comportementales (URAPC, EA 2088), Université de Picardie J. Verne, Amiens, France.


The tactile arousal threshold of sleeping birds has not been investigated to date. In this study, the characteristics of this threshold were assessed by stimulating either the upper back or a foot of two groups (one cutaneous site per group) of 60 sleeping king penguins (Aptenodytes patagonica) in the breeding colony of Baie du Marin (Crozet Archipelago). Increasing weights were put onto one of the feet or the upper back of individuals that had been sleeping for more than 5 min until they showed behavioural signs of arousal (head raising). The weight applied to the upper back that was needed to awaken a sleeper (837 +/- 73 g) was 20 times greater than that applied to a foot (38 +/- 6 g). In terms of pressure, the difference remained five times higher for the back (209 +/- 18 g/cm(2)) than the foot (40 g +/- 7 g/cm(2)). Because the king penguin incubates its single egg and rears its young chick on its feet, the low threshold measured at this level could be viewed as an adaptation against progeny predation. Sleepers are frequently bumped by conspecifics walking through the colony. The increased arousal threshold associated with tactile stimulation of the back may help to preserve sleep continuity under these conditions.

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