SHEFFIELD, England, Sept. 3 (UPI) -- Rodents, like penguins, huddle for warmth. And when they do -- new research shows -- the collection of bodies acts like a self-organizing "super-organism."
The members of huddling mass rotate, so that outer rats are brought into the warmth of the center before rotating back out. Rotation helps to regulate the group's temperature so none of the rats become too hot or too cold. The rate of rotation varies depending on the external temperature.
In modeling this behavior, researchers at the University of Sheffield, in England, showed that the huddled mass resembles the actions of a larger, centrally controlled organism -- able to change shape and retain heat.
Of course, this regulation happens without a centralized brain. Instead, the super-organism behavior is the product of a combination of collective selfishness and collective sacrifice. As the research models pointed out, each rat must sacrifice a bit of its own personal heat to ensure the group maintains a balanced temperature.
"Our model describes the huddle as a self-organising system, and reveals how complex group behaviors can emerge from very simple interactions between animals," researcher Jonathan Glancy explained in a press release.
Glancy's latest findings are published in the journal PLOS Computational Biology, but his research is ongoing. He and his colleagues believe huddling models could help engineers designer improved super-organism-like robotics systems.