facebook
twitter
rss
account
search
search
 

Study: Penguins made evolutionary 'choice' of swimming over flying

May 21, 2013 at 5:58 PM   |   Comments

ABERDEEN, Scotland, May 21 (UPI) -- British researchers say they've solved the puzzle of why penguins can't fly: Their survival hinged on swimming underwater not soaring in the air.

A study of seabirds closely related to the penguin has convinced the researchers a wing designed for flight cannot also be good for diving and swimming, they said.

They examined a close relative of the penguin, the guillemot, a black-and-white seabird not only looks a lot like a penguin, it can swim nearly as well.

And unlike the penguin, it can also fly -- but poorly, the researchers said.

That constitutes a 'biomechanical hypothesis' of why some birds eventually become flightless, John Speakman from the University of Aberdeen said.

"When the bird is flying and diving it has to use its wings to do two different things," he said. "The biomechanical hypothesis is that you cannot build a wing that is good at doing both."

"These birds [guillemots] have these very short wings and they have to beat them at an incredible speed to stay in the air. It is exhausting for them."

Guillemots represent a tipping point between seabirds that are able to both fly and swim, and those that are flightless, Speakman said.

At some point in penguin evolution, the species would have faced a tradeoff between flying or attaining agility when diving and swimming, he said.

"At some point it became so 'expensive' for them to fly, that it was better to give up flying altogether and make the wings into small flippers," he said.

© 2013 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
Most Popular
1
Android phones to join iPhone in saying no to the police Android phones to join iPhone in saying no to the police
2
Perth's first iPhone buyer immediately drops brand new phone on live TV Perth's first iPhone buyer immediately drops brand new phone on live TV
3
Dogs are the favorite food of leopards in rural India Dogs are the favorite food of leopards in rural India
4
Only 5 billion years until Andromeda Galaxy eats Milky Way Only 5 billion years until Andromeda Galaxy eats Milky Way
5
Tuna fishermen are not happy about proposed marine sanctuary Tuna fishermen are not happy about proposed marine sanctuary
Trending News
Video
x
Feedback