Not Bad (For a Wing)

On the heels (or is it wings) of my post on flightless wings, I thought I'd do a quick follow-up. I thought we'd take a quick look at Penguins and see whether or not we can classify the wings of these flightless birds as vestigial structures (take a look at the previous post if you are not sure what I am referring to).

Using Professor Theobald's definition of a vestigial structure, let's ask ourselves a few questions before we take a closer look at these waddling wonders

  • Do their wings look reduced or rudimentary?
  • Do these wings perform simple, minor or inessential functions?

How Do These Wings Work?

First things first, let's understand how these feathered-fins propel our feathered-friends in the water:

So, "the Penguin can can angle its wings on each stroke to maximize the forward thrust. It surges through the water like our greatest champion swimmers, only better."

Does that sound like a simple or minor function? Is catching enough food for two months an inessential activity? Sounds pretty essential to me – if, of course, you define eating as an essential activity.

And while I haven't analyzed the structure of the Penguins wings, I imagine that any structure that allows a creature to "maximize the forward thrust" of their wings as they propel themselves in the water is anything but reduced or rudimentary.

But enough of the technical talk – let's take a look at our flightless friends in action. As such, here are a few videos that show just how well these guys can swim:

Going Fishing

In the Galapagos

In Antarctica:

And in Australia

Escaping Predators

Escaping Lion Seals

And Orca Whales

And They Can Dive Too

More Than a Flying Machine

At the end of the day, I think we are going to have to reconsider the wing – with more than 40 species of flightless birds across the world perhaps it's time to realize that the wing is built for more than just flight.

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