Why penguins don’t fly

By Alejandro Freixes, CCNN Head Writer

King Penguins.

Once upon a time, 70 million years ago, penguins gave up the ability to fly. It wasn’t taken from them. They didn’t struggle against it. Evolution said it was a good idea, and for the past 70 million years, that seems to be the case!

See, the penguin doesn’t fly anymore because it likes to swim. Not only that, it wants to be amazing at diving and swimming.

A recent study by a group of researchers shows that trying to be both a good flyer and diver would have made the penguin not that great at either. It had to choose one to be awesome at it.

Researchers studied the thick-billed murre (shown in the top photo), because they are terrible at flying and landing, but decent divers and swimmers. Not only that, while murres are not penguins themselves, they are related to them – kind of like how you might have cousins that don’t look like you, but are related. Studying these birds was dangerous, because there’s lots of polar bears around, so the researchers lived in a cabin surrounded by an electric “bear fence” to keep them away.

The murres, when they fly, burn a ton of energy. When they swim, they don’t burn as much, but compared to penguins they still burn a lot. So, what researchers concluded is that because the murre has all-purpose wings that can do both, they’re not that great at both. If they had stubbier wings like the penguins, they’d be far better swimmers and divers!

Featured image courtesy of Michael Haferkamp on Wikipedia. Image of King Penguin courtesy of Liam Quinn on Wikipedia.