Why did penguins stop flying? This question can be all the more intriguing since we know that things ended badly with the dodo… However, unlike the dodo, the penguin is still alive!
But really, what is the point of stealing?
Flight is an adaptation of certain animals whose mastery brings different evolutionary advantages.
First, flight offers birds exceptional mobility. They can quickly move around their environment, and this is probably why humans have also sought to fly.
Flight is also one of the best strategies for escaping predators. Birds can rise quickly into the air to escape a threat on land. This also allows them to find shelters at heights, out of reach of many predators. As for the threat of aerial predators, and therefore other birds, escape will depend on the agility deployed.
Flight allows birds to explore a wide range of habitats and access diverse food sources. Some species migrate long distances to take advantage of the resources offered in richer regions. While not all bird species migrate, this type of dietary flexibility proves crucial to the survival of those that have chosen this strategy.
The ability to fly also allows birds to colonize new habitats and diversify geographically. Over time, this led to the emergence of many species adapted to specific environments. The exploration of new regions can also promote the dispersal of individuals, thus avoiding inbreeding and contributing to genetic diversity within populations.
Why did penguins lose their ability to fly?
Penguins are seabirds found in the Northern Hemisphere. They belong to the Alcidae family. They are found from the Arctic to the western Mediterranean and the North Atlantic.
Penguins are one of those birds that have evolved to adapt to their aquatic environment. The ancestors of penguins were indeed flying birds. However, over the course of evolution, they have undergone significant anatomical changes to better adapt to marine life.
The penguins’ wings evolved into powerful flippers, ideal for underwater propulsion. This is essential for hunting marine prey. By having shorter, stronger wings, penguins can swim quickly and nimbly to capture fish, squid, and other prey. Flight did not provide them with as many food opportunities in the environment they chose to invest in.
But they needed to solve another problem. Those living in polar regions and other cold environments must contend with low water temperatures. However, by losing their ability to fly, penguins better managed the loss of body heat. Their dense plumage and layer of subcutaneous fat act as effective thermal insulation to protect them from extreme cold. Having reduced wings helps minimize heat loss through these appendages.
In their new aquatic habitat, the penguins found themselves less exposed to aerial predators. Terrestrial predators, such as arctic foxes, have become their main threats. They then developed other defense mechanisms such as the formation of colonies more capable of ensuring collective security.
Penguins therefore evolved to become masters of swimming. The fastest reach 27-30 km/h! This transformation was not without impacting other aspects of their anatomy or their social organization, with the aim of remaining adapted to their environment.
How can animals evolve so radically?
The theory of evolution, as formulated primarily by Charles Darwin in the 19th century, is one of the most fundamental and revolutionary concepts in biology. It explains how species evolve over time through the process of natural selection. This constituted a major step in human knowledge because it finally provided the keys to understanding the diversity of life on Earth.
The theory of evolution emerged at a time when conventional ideas about the creation and diversity of species were dominated by religious beliefs. It was with his revolutionary work entitled “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection” published in 1859, that Darwin deployed an alternative scientific explanation.
According to Darwin, individuals within a population have heritable variations in certain characteristics. These variations may be due to random genetic mutations. Some characteristics provide an adaptive advantage in a given environment but others may prove unfavorable. Natural selection occurs when individuals with advantageous traits are more likely to survive and reproduce than those with less advantageous traits. This is how, over time, advantageous characteristics become more common in the population.
If today the little auk (Alca torda) is the only species still alive, it is because the strategy has not been effective enough to face all the dangers. The great auk (Pinguinus impennis) also did not know how to fly and the last pair was killed on July 3, 1844, which led to the definitive extinction of this species. But humans are undoubtedly a different threat from others and species are not capable of adapting quickly enough to face the challenge posed by hunting by humans…