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Why can penguins swim and not fly?

Why can penguins swim and not fly?
Jack from Greater London (age 5-14)

Why can’t a penguin fly? Is it to do with their weight?
Emily Vigrass from Staffordshire (Age: 5-14)


One Response

  1. The ordinary matter that we see using telescopes is only a fraction of the material that makes up the Universe around us; the rest of the mass in the Universe is made of invisible ‘dark matter’. Although we can’t see it, we know it is there through the effects of the extra gravitational force it contributes in galaxies and on larger scales; dark matter controls the structure and destiny of the Universe. Recent theoretical work suggests that much of the dark matter may come in the form of new subatomic particles. To date, no one has isolated a particle of dark matter in the laboratory, though several experimental campaigns are underway, including one by the UK Dark Matter Collaboration based at the Boulby Potash Mine in North Yorkshire.
    For more details see: http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/space/deepspace/darkmatter/ Look at how different parts of a penguin’s body are from most flying birds and this helps you answer the question.
    It’s partly to do with weight – like humans, penguins are almost too heavy to fly in air. Penguin ancestors a long time ago probably could have flown. Large swans are the heaviest water birds that can still take off , fly and land in water.
    Water is more supportive of weight especially if you are a good shape for water which penguins are, a lovely round sleek fat shape like a torpedo or submarine.
    Penguins hunt for fish in water and themselves are hunted by leopard seals, sharks and killer whales.
    Penguins need to be sleek, fast -moving and very mobile in stormy seas to catch fish and avoid being caught.
    Their penguin wings are hard edged quite tiny flippers, tough and good for rocky beachings on the coast and very strong (I’ve been hit by them) but wouldn’t be good enough for lift off from the ground.
    Their legs and feet are also very stocky and strong to help them swim with no real bendy knee joints for good jumping and landing / take off . It makes them not so graceful on land though but they have few land enemies.
    Penguins have quite fat (and so heavy) shapely bodies to survive the cold water and weather – they store body fat more than most birds. This is also not so good for flying and take off. They have quite tough thick bones, not as lightweight as the bones of flying birds.
    A penguin’s feathers in many several layers are partly to keep them warm – there are very many tiny feathers, not that good for flying either!
    Penguins of different types and sizes are also pretty good at holding their breath or using oxygen underwater, better than a diving flying seagull. I’ve noticed at Newquay Zoo that annoying seagulls turning up to penguin feeds are often held by the leg or wing underwater by cheeky penguins who can stay down longer. It encourages the gulls not to return and steal fish or penguin eggs!

    They lay eggs on the ground or in burrows (no flying to a nest) and are very protective of them – the beak is as tough and sharp as that of flying birds!

    Hope this helps.
    Mark Norris

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