Oodles of snoozes

This exercise is a part of Educator Guide: AI in Bioacoustics Research and Napping Penguins / View Guide
A solitary black and white chinstrap penguin sits on rocks on an island near Antarctica.
A chinstrap penguin (Pygoscelis antarcticus) gets a few precious seconds of shut-eye on King George Island off the coast of Antarctica.W.Y. Lee

Directions for teachers:

Have students answer the “Before Reading” questions individually in class or for homework, before reading the online Science News article “These nesting penguins nod off over 10,000 times a day, for seconds at a time.” Then, have them answer the “During Reading” questions and discuss the “After Reading” questions. As an optional extension, have students complete the final question for homework. This article also appears in the January 13 issue of Science NewsScience News Explores offers another version of the same article written at a middle-school reading level. Post this set of questions without answers for your students using this link.

Directions for students:

Answer the “Before Reading” questions. Then read the online Science News article “These nesting penguins nod off over 10,000 times a day, for seconds at a time” and answer the remaining questions as directed by your teacher.

Before Reading

1. Describe your typical sleep pattern over 24 hours. What time do you typically go to bed and wake up? Do you tend to nap through the day? Come up with an animal that follows a different sleep pattern. Describe this animal’s typical sleep pattern to the best of your knowledge. Identify two specific differences in the sleep pattern of this animal compared with your own.

Answers will vary for both sleep schedule and chosen animal. Students should describe their sleep schedule and choose another animal’s sleep pattern to comment on. An example of an animal with a different sleep schedule might be a cat. Cats sleep about 12-16 hours a day. Cats typically sleep intermittently, taking long naps. Humans typically sleep through the night and remain awake during the day.

2. Imagine you are sleeping the night in a hotel room. Consider how your surroundings typically affect your sleep quality and describe two specific aspects or features of a hotel room that would improve your sleep quality. For example, you can consider things like noise level, temperature, level of disruption and anything else that comes to mind. Then, describe two aspects of a room that could potentially decrease your sleep quality.

Answers will vary. Students may mention temperature, level of disruption, bedding fabrics, and noise level as factors that impact sleep.

During Reading

1. What is a potential advantage of the chinstrap penguin’s unusual sleep pattern?

The chinstrap penguin’s disrupted sleep schedule may help it keep a close watch over its young.

2. What did Won Young Lee notice about the sleep patterns of some seabirds on days-long flights?

Some seabirds would take quick naps during long flights.

3. How long is a chinstrap penguin’s average nap?

The chinstrap penguin’s nap duration averaged only about 4 seconds.

4. What unusual features of penguin-sleep patterns did scientists observe regarding the two halves of this animal’s brain?

The penguins could sleep with only one half of their brain while the other half stayed awake.

5. How many hours of sleep did each half of the penguin’s brain get per day?

Each of the two hemispheres accumulated more than 11 hours of sleep each day.

6. Describe one specific threat that the penguin’s unusual sleep pattern might help to guard against.

Predatory birds patrol colonies looking to grab undefended eggs. This sleep pattern means the penguins can remain vigilant at all times.

After Reading

1. This article focused on penguin sleep patterns during the breeding season. Take into account what you’ve learned in reading and make a prediction: Do you predict the frequent short-nap sleep pattern persists beyond the breeding season? Explain your answer. At least once, refer to details from this article to support your prediction.

Answers will vary. Students may predict that the sleep pattern changes outside the breeding season to allow longer naps. Students may point out that caring for eggs is no longer a factor, so the penguins may no longer need to be vigilant. Other students may predict that the penguin’s sleep pattern likely persists because threats still remain even without the need to protect eggs.

2. How is the unusual sleep pattern described in this story an example of animals adapting to their habitat?

The sleep pattern described in this article shows a species adapting to a turbulent environment with many threats and lots of commotion from the colony. The micro-naps allow the penguin to get some rest while remaining vigilant to guard its nest and young.

Optional Extension  

Imagine you are about to investigate the sleep patterns of a different type of penguin, the emperor penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri). After reading this article, come up with two questions regarding the emperor penguin’s habitat that, if answered, might help you better understand its sleep patterns. Explain how each question’s answer might point to specific sleep patterns. Do research to answer your habitat-related questions. Then, use the answers to those questions to predict the potential sleep patterns of emperor penguins based on that knowledge.

Answers will vary regarding potential questions, but may include: how consistent are predatory threats against this penguin species? If threats are consistent, then the penguin species may be likely to take on a sleep pattern like the chinstrap penguin during breeding season.