Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Julia. Julia Wonders, “Why cant penguins fly?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Julia!
Would you like to hear a joke? Okay, here it is: Why can’t penguins fly?
It’s because they don‘t have enough money to buy plane tickets!
Okay, so that’s an old joke, but we still like it! And it made us WONDER…why can’t penguins fly? After all, they are birds, aren’t they?
Yes, penguins are aquatic, flightless birds that live in the Southern Hemisphere--especially Antarctica. Unlike the wings of other birds, penguins’ wings are more like flippers that make them well-suited for life in the water.
In fact, penguins swimming through water looks quite similar to birds flying through the sky. Their smooth feathers trap air, which makes them more buoyant in the water and protects them from the cold water.
Penguins spend about half their time in the water and half their time on land. And their flippers don‘t just help them swim! When they’re on land, their flippers and their tails help them keep their balance and walk upright.
Have you ever seen a penguin walk? Their walk looks more like a waddle, and they don‘t move very fast. If a penguin wants to move quickly, it slides on its belly! This is a movement called “tobogganing” after a northern method of sledding.
Okay, so a penguin’s flippers help them a lot. Still, why can‘t they fly? Scientists believe penguins can’t fly because they likely had little or no threat from predators in their past. That means they never evolved to fly because they didn‘t have anything to fly away from. Instead, these birds evolved to become more aquatic to better survive in their habitat. They relied on the oceans for food, so developing flippers to swim well was more important than growing wings to fly.
As they exist today, it’s easy to see why penguins can’t fly. Their flippers, adapted for life in the water, simply cannot get their cute, chunky bodies into the sky. This is especially true for the largest species of penguin, the Emperor Penguin. Emperor Penguins stand over three feet tall and can weigh 75 pounds or more. They’d need some pretty strong wings to fly through the air!
It’s easy to see why penguins would choose advanced swimming ability over flying. How about you? Would you rather glide gracefully through water or through the air? There are definitely advantages to both, as we can see from all our bird friends!