American Oceans

Can Penguins Fly?

Penuins on top of ice diving to the water

It’s a well known fact that birds can fly. It’s what those wings are for, right? But penguins are also classified as birds, and they also have wings. So you may be wondering whether penguins have the ability to fly just like their fellow feathered cousins.

The answer is that no, penguins can’t fly. Even though they have wings, these appendages have evolved to help penguins with their swimming abilities. So they don’t actually have the ability to fly. 

The only flying that penguins are able to do is fly through the water at terrific speeds. They typically swim underwater at speeds of between 15 to 25 miles per hour. Penguins spend the majority of their time in the water, too.

It is estimated that they spend around 75% of their lifespan swimming through water!

Did penguins ever fly?

So if penguins can’t fly, and their wings don’t really function like other birds, why are they classed as birds? This is because they fit all the major specifications of a bird.

They have feathers, although these are very different to the feathers you see on garden birds. They lay eggs, and they are also warm blooded. It’s worth remembering that there are other flightless birds dotted around the globe, such as ostriches, emus, and cassowaries.

But if penguins are classified as birds, did they ever have the ability to fly?

The answer is yes, but this would have been a very, very long time ago. It is thought that as penguins became better and better at swimming, they gradually lost their ability to fly. Their wings will have become better adapted to help them power through the water. 

This is also why their feathers are different from other birds. These feathers are shorter, broad, and more closely spaced to keep the cold water away from the penguins’ skin.

These feathers also feature downy tufts around the base of the feathers to act as a natural insulator.

It is hypothesized that ancient penguins would have found flying irrelevant once they had become masters of the ocean.

The ability to fly would make some aspects of their lives in the harsh conditions of their natural habitat easier, such as escaping leopard seals or avoiding lengthy treacherous marches.

However, the wings they would need to develop in order to be able to do this would make them poorer swimmers than they are.

The wings of modern day penguins have evolved to help them improve their swimming. The wing bones have become fused straight, making these more powerful and rigid.

They also have lots of helpful muscles to help them reach those impressive speeds as they fly through the water.

Is there a type of penguin that can fly?

No, there isn’t a type of penguin that can fly. There are 18 species of penguins around the globe, and they are all known to be flightless birds.

While some breeds of ancient penguins may have been able to fly, this is an ability that has slowly been bred out of them because of evolution.

If you think about your average garden bird and their diet, this might give you more of an idea as to why penguins aren’t able to fly. This is because the majority of garden birds are able to capture prey on the wing, flying back and forth to catch insects.

Penguins feed on fishes, krill, and squid, which are located underwater. So in order for them to feed, they need to be good at swimming.

They need those powerful flipper-like wings to propel them through the water so that they can catch their food. Because of the environment they live in, they do not need the ability to fly in order to catch their prey.

So because of this, all penguins are flightless birds.

How smart are penguins?

It is of course very tricky to determine how intelligent an animal is. They’re not able to communicate in the same way as humans, and we can’t exactly ask a penguin to take an IQ test so that we can figure out how intelligent they are.

However, it is thought that penguins are one of the smartest animals on the planet.

This is mostly determined by the fact that penguins are able to quickly understand as well as respond to complex gestures and language. They are naturally quick learners, and have been able to adapt to their environment well.

Some scientists have carried out a series of experiments to determine how intelligent penguins are, and they responded better to these tests than some chimpanzees. There is even some evidence that penguins have self-awareness which has only previously been noticed in humans and apes.

While it’s true that there currently isn’t a published study to measure the intelligence of penguins, they are thought to be highly smart birds. This can also be seen by the fact that penguins are able to develop hierarchies in their groups, as well as intricate communities.

Final Thoughts

So there you have it! You now know that penguins can’t fly, but they can propel themselves through the water at high speeds thanks to their adapted wings. While ancient penguins may have had the ability to fly, this ability has slowly left the birds through evolution. 

Penguins’ wings have instead become better evolved as flippers. The bones have become fused straight, and are finished with a lot of powerful muscle to help them fly through the water. This means penguins can reach impressive speeds of up to 25 miles an hour.

It’s also worth remembering that penguins’ food is made up of fish, squid, and krill, which are located underwater.

So penguins need to be better swimmers in order to survive. This means they don’t need the ability to fly, which will explain why this was lost over the centuries.

So even though penguins are indeed classed as birds, they are one of the only flightless birds around the globe. These birds are better at flying through the water than they are at flying through the air!

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