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May 24 2013

Why Penguins Quit Flying

Humans spent centuries conspiring to fly, so it might be hard to imagine that any creature would give up the skill, and yet penguins waddle among us. A new study helps confirm that these seabirds traded flight to become better swimmers.

Penguins have a litany of physical features that make them energy-efficient underwater. For instance, their shortened wingspans lessen drag; their dense wing bones make them less buoyant; and their bulky bodies help them stay insulated and dive deeper. Unlike other aquatic birds that paddle underwater with their webbed feet, penguins beat their wings to propel themselves far below the surface. Emperor penguins can even go to depths greater than 1,500 feet (450 meters), lasting 20 minutes on a single breath.

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