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Can Penguins Fly?

Are penguins able to fly in the air like other birds? The answer is no. But if you want to know if penguins can fly, the answer is yes, penguis are flying birds. They just fly in water that is 900 times denser than air. What is maybe more amazing is they can fly at speeds of up to 20 miles per hour.

When you watch penguins under water, you can see that they move their wings. The forces that are generated by their forelimbs are very similar, if not identical, to the forces of birds that fly in the air. Penguins are flying with their forelimbs (wings).

There are birds that move under the water but that don't use their forelimbs--they paddle. And so that's not really flying in the sense of forelimbs causing "lift," the force keeping them afloat in the water or air. In the case of penguins, they are absolutely flying, just in water and not air. There are other birds like puffins (alcids) that also fly under water.

Question From: Anna
Grade Level: 8

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Be part of Ask A Biologist

by volunteering, or simply sending us feedback on the site. Scientists, teachers, writers, illustrators, and translators are all important to the program. If you are interested in helping with the website we have a Volunteer page to get the process started.