Just the other day, we were ice fishing in the Wonderopolis pond when we overheard a polar bear telling a joke to a moose:

Polar bear:      Hey moose! Why can’t penguins fly?

Moose:                        I have no idea.

Polar bear:      Because they don’t have enough money to buy plane tickets!

Moose:                        That’s cold, man. Really, really cold.

OK, so that’s an old joke, but we still like it! And it made us WONDER…why can’t penguins fly? After all, they are birds, aren’t they?

Yes, penguins are aquatic, flightless birds that live in the Southern Hemisphere, especially Antarctica. Unlike the wings of other birds, penguins’ wings are more like flippers that make them particularly suited for life in the water.

In fact, penguins are so suited for an aquatic life that their agile swimming looks quite similar to a bird flying through the air. Their smooth feathers trap air, which makes them more buoyant in the water and protects them from the cold water.

Penguins spend about half their time in the water and half their time on land. When they’re on land, their flippers and their tails help them keep their balance and walk upright. If they want to move quickly, though, they often slide on their bellies in a movement called tobogganing.

Scientists believe penguins’ inability to fly stems from the fact that they likely had no predators where they lived long ago. Because penguins lived near water and had to rely upon the oceans for food, they adapted over time to become more aquatic, exchanging true wings for flippers.

As they exist today, it’s easy to see why penguins can’t fly. Their flippers adapted for life in the water simply cannot generate enough lift to get their chunky bodies into the sky. This is especially true for the largest species of penguin, the Emperor Penguin. Emperor Penguins stand over three feet tall and can weigh 75 pounds or more.

142 Join the Discussion

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars  (61 votes, avg. 4.36 out of 5)
    • Hey there, Laserdudle! We’re glad you’re back today! Check out our Wonder– you can watch the Wonder video and read about penguins. They are great swimmers, but not the best in the air! :)

      • Hi, BlondeDuck24! We bet penguins wouldn’t make very good pets! They are wild animals that thrive in aquatic environments and most species live in really frigid temperatures! They sure are cool animals to WONDER about though! :)

    • That would be cool, Jacob B! We also think you’d need to keep your house extra COOL for penguins to live comfortably! :)

    • Hello to our Wonder Friends in Ms. Bayko’s Class! We’re so glad you’re WONDERing with us today!Thanks for sharing your WONDERful guess with us– tomorrow’s Wonder of the Day® is going to be great! :)

  1. We think tomorrow’s wonder of the day will be….
    – Mount Rushmore
    – Rocks and Minerals
    – Stones on ocean floor
    – Armadillo

    Some of us were right about the penguin, let’s see if we are right about tomorrow!

    • Wohoo, so many SUPER guesses from our Wonder Friends in Mrs. DerVartanian’s Class! Yippee! And we’re glad that you correctly guessed today’s Wonder too! Stay cool! :)

  2. We liked today’s Wonder because we like penguins because they’re cute. It reminded us of books we read like Antartic Antics. It also made us think about Happy Feet, Mr. Popper’s Penguins, and Penguins of Madagascar.

    We think tomorrow’s wonder will be about the famous stone statues on Easter Island, Santa Statues, Mt. Rushmore, gargoyles, or tiki statues.

    • Hooray, we are so glad to be WONDERing with Mrs. Ski’s AM Class today! You have done a great job of connecting today’s Wonder to other famous penguins– nice work! Tomorrow’s Wonder might make you freeze in your tracks! :)

    • Wow, you’re on the right track, Wonder Friends in Mrs. Chic’c Class! We can’t wait to see what’s watching over us tomorrow at Wonderopolis! :)

  3. Ohhhhh. Penguins are just so cute. I love penguins. They used to be my number 1 until wolves came in. Sorry penguins, I still love ya, but you’re just my number 2 now.
    (I feel like I have said this in a different wonder) :)

    • Hooray, we know you love penguins, Tyler J! We’re glad to Wonder with you about those waddling creatures– have a SUPER day! :)

    • Hello to our Wonder Friends in Mrs. Clark’s second grade class! We’re happy you’re WONDERing with Mr. P today! :) Penguins are prepared for the cold weather they live in, that’s why they’ve got so much fat and blubber, it keeps them nice and warm in the Antarctic.

      Have you ever worn a dark t-shirt on a sunny day? You know that you can get hot very easily that way. The black part of penguins’ bodies help them absorb the sunshine, which keeps them warm. The white part reflects the sun, so they can flip over and cool off. This prevents them from getting too hot during the day!

      We Wonder what would happen if penguins migrated to warmer climates… do you think they would need all that blubber? :)

  4. I think the joke is wack it’s not even that funny but I didn’t know that the penguins did know how to fly in the old time and that they had to adapted to the water so they can get away from predators.

    • Thanks for your comment, Dazy! We appreciate your thoughts about the joke in today’s Wonder… but we sure are glad you learned something new! Way to go, Wonder Friend! We hope to see you soon! :)

    • Hi there, Wonderdude! We’re sorry if we didn’t respond to one of your posts! Please let us know where it is and we’re happy to share our response! :)

  5. I think that if we put penguins could go on a diet do some push ups and then they could fly when we push them of a cliff or fall to their death oh well I think tomorrow’s wonder will be about stones.

    • Hi there, Moira, we’re glad you’re WONDERing about flying penguins with us today. It is important to remember that penguins have lots of blubber to keep them warm and protect them from the elements of the Antarctic. If we changed their habitats, they might adapt, or they may not survive. We wouldn’t want to put them in danger, though. Thanks for sharing your comment with us today! :)

  6. I don’t like this site it is boring has meaning and it is worse than the worst site in the world!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Hi there, Nicole! We’re sorry to hear that Wonderopolis isn’t your favorite site to visit, but we value your opinion. We hope that you’ll come back to Wonder with us soon… who knows what cool, new things you can learn here? :)

    • Hi Wonder Friends in Mrs. Walker’s Fifth Grade class! We’re so happy to hear that today’s Wonder fit perfectly with your Wordly Wise unit! HOORAY for WONDERing about penguins! We think penguins would be great house guests! :)

    • Hi there, Smiley. We appreciate your thoughts about Wonderopolis and we respect your opinion. If you’d like to come back and Wonder with us, we’d be super happy to have you! :)

  7. This is a question that I have always asked myself but never asked anyone else. This wonder answered my question. Now I understand. Thanks :D

    • How awesome, Swizzy1999! We’re so glad that you learned something new– something that you have been WONDERing about, too! :)

    • Great question, Ashley! We WONDERed about their ability as master swimmers, but they don’t do well when it comes to flying. We bet you’ll learn even MORE if you read the Wonder today! :)

    • Hi there, Anna! We learned that penguins are much better divers and swimmers than pilots. The weather and climate affect penguins– that’s why they have so much stored fat and feathers– this helps them keep warm in the Antarctic! :)

  8. I love penguins I think that they are so cute and I love the whole black and white theme!! I think that they are awesome!!!!

    • Thanks for sharing your comment with us Kaleyluv! We are so glad that you like WONDERing about penguins as much as we do! Did you know that the black feathers of a penguin help it to stay warm, while the white reflects the sun to keep it cool? :)

  9. I want a penguin so bad. My mom tried to get a penguin once. It was funny. Even though I am scared of birds, I want a penguin because I don’t think of them like birds.

    • Your mom sounds like an awesome lady, Gina M! We think that we think about penguins differently, even though they are technically birds. What an interesting thought– maybe it’s because they don’t fly! :)

  10. Penguins are very interesting animals and I think that you did a great job on this wonder! Thank you I have always wondered about why penguins don’t fly when they have wings. I <3 wonderopolis!

    • Why, thank you so much for your SUPER comment, Wonder Friend! We’re glad you know why penguins don’t fly– but they are excellent divers! Have a terrific Thursday! :)

    • You’re not alone, Dylan P! A few other Wonder Friends mentioned that they would love to have a penguin as a pet! We bet that would be awesome– but you’d have to keep your house extra cold! :)

  11. We thought today’s wonder was cool-tastic! We thought it reminded us of Mr. Popper’s Penguin…especially Captain because she wanted to fly. It reminded Brock of Madagascar 3. He hopes there aren’t any eccentric scientists who teach penguins how to drive like Skipper.

    We think tomorrow’s wonder will be about mosaics, cyclops, paintings where eyes follow you like in creepy movies or Scooby Doo, owls, Stonehedge, or Easter Island statues.

    • Hey there, Wonder Friends in Mrs. Ski’s PM Class! We are so proud of you for making so many connections to today’s Wonder! We are flapping around Wonderopolis with excitement– some of our Wonder Friends are pretending to be penguins today! :)

      Thanks for sharing your guesses for tomorrow’s Wonder… we’ll have to see who’s watching us tomorrow. :)

    • Great point, akgold! Penguins’ bones are heavy, which would make it difficult for them to fly. However, these heavy bones make it easy for them to stay underwater for twenty minutes at a time! :)

  12. Hey wonderopolis this is my first time today’s wonder was really cool. So you guys actually made 795 wonders. You guys are good.

    • Hi there, Wonder Friend I! We’re so glad you’re WONDERing with us– there’s lots to do at Wonderopolis! We hope to see you soon! :)

  13. Hi im from Mrs.Caplin’s class.The you came to visit on 12/6/12. I never knew that when penguins slide on their bellies, it is called tobogganing. Do all penguins live in Antartica? I did not know what aquatic meant,
    so I used context clues. So I think that aquatic means you like to spend more time in the water. Using my BK (backround knowledge) I already knew that penguins can fly, but not why.I also did not know that penguins spent about half their time in the water. Do pengins spent about half their life in the water? I also think tomorrow’s wonder is about statues.

    • Hi there, Hanad! We’re very proud of you for using context clues and background knowledge to answer your own questions! Penguins spend a lot of time in the water, since they find their food there! Thanks for joining the fun at Wonderopolis- we’ll see you tomorrow! :)

  14. Hi Wonderoplis, today my teacher got the vice president and some other wonderopolis people to come to my classroom. Today I learned a lot about about penguins and why they can’t fly. I predict tomorrow’s wonder will be about cameras because it says “keep an eye on you”.

    • Hey there, Minecrafter! We’re so happy that some of our Wonder Friends from Wonderopolis visited you and your classmates yesterday! HOORAY! We are glad we could Wonder with you about those waddling penguins– they’re great at swimming, but not great at flying! We hope to see you again as we explore the next Wonder of the Day®! :)

    • Hi there, Grace! All you need to do is make a semi-colon : and a closed parentheses ). Type them right next to one another to make a :) !

  15. Hi wonderoplis I really liked the video today. My favorite animal is a penguin thank you for sharing the video with everyone today.

    • Wohoo, we’re so glad you enjoyed our Wonder video, Madeline123! We think penguins are super cool, even if they can’t actually fly! They’re excellent swimmers! :)

  16. I never was so interested in penguins, but now it’s like my heaad is going to explode of penguin information! I WONDER if they write with a pen?get it:PEN-guin!

    • He he, we really like your joke, Alice! Thanks for WONDERing about penguins with us today– we think they are really WONDERful creatures! :)

  17. Something new I learned was that penguins’ feathers trap air so they are more buoyant in the water.

    I think tomorrow’s wonder will be about cameras because it keeps an eye on you.

    How many additional species are there besides the Emperor penguin?

  18. Hi Wonderopolis I’m John from Mrs. Caplin’s class. Some of the wonder people visited me. I never knew that penguins were agile in the water. I learned some new words from the article. When I first saw them I used context clues and background knowledge. When I couldn’t figure it out I used a dictionary. I can’t believe there is so much more to learn about those aquatic birds. I have a question for you. How do penguins hunt for food? Thanks Wonderopolis!!!

    • Hey John– thanks for stopping by to Wonder with us! We’re glad that you met some of our Wonder Friends yesterday– we hear it was a lot of fun! We LOVED WONDERing about penguins– there are so many cool facts about those feathery animals. We’re proud of you for using context clues, background knowledge and a dictionary to help you understand the entire Wonder! We also learned that penguins are great divers and swimmers– and they get their food underwater! :)

  19. Hello, I’m in Mrs. Caplin’s class. I love animals so I thought this was a cool Wonder. In science we are learning about buoyancy.

    • Hey there, Simba! We’re so glad you’re back today! Thanks for sharing your comment– we are glad that this Wonder connects to what you’re learning in Mrs. Caplin’s class! YIPPEE! :)

  20. Hello Wonderopolis, I am in Mrs. Caplin’s class. In science we are learning about buoyancy. I did not know that penguins spend half their time on land, and half their time in the water. I also did not know that Emporer Penguins stand over three feet tall and they can weigh over 75 pounds.

    • Hi there, Simba! We think it’s cool that you’ve connected our penguin Wonder to what you’re studying in science class! There is so much to Wonder about and we’re glad you’ve joined the fun! We hope you have a WONDERful waddling weekend! :)

  21. I think today’s wonder was really cool. I like penguins a lot. Most of all, I like this species that lives in New Zealand called the little blue penguin, and I like macaroni penguins a lot. Thank you for today’s wonder! It was cool!

  22. Hi Wonderopolis, I was thinking if you could make a wonder about Taj Mahal. It is a beautiful place. I visited it when I went to India.
    Thank You :-)

    • What a SUPER idea, Trisha! Thanks for suggesting a great Wonder… we can’t wait to start our research for a new Wonder! It takes some time to go from Wonder idea to completed, official Wonder, but we are getting excited to start! :)

  23. Hi I am back because I was soo busy do you know why? Because of Christmas anyway I really loved this Wonder and the penguins are mostly endangered because the bad oils from the boats leaking and I really hope that people will try their best to save the penguins and the others and I am animal lover and the penguins are my 2nd favourite animals in my animal list my first favourite animal are monkey, apes (Chimpanzee – ape, Howler Monkey – monkey). Have a great day and I just found that the new music called “Just One Last Time” By David Guetta I hope that you will look at that website on the youtube.

    Love Kezia/ Monkey Geek :)

    • WOW, we’re so proud of you for WONDERing about penguins, Monkey Geek! We are glad that you are thinking about the lives of the penguins, monkeys and keeping them safe, too! :)

    • We think penguins are super fun to Wonder about, too, Shyanne! We have a few other Wonder Friends who mentioned they would like a penguin, too! We Wonder where your penguin would live?! :)

    • We have lots of Wonder Friends at Wonderopolis to help up research and find out cool facts to share with you, Bob! Thanks for WONDERing with us today! :)

  24. I myself have wondered why penguins can’t fly, but now I know! I enjoyed reading the article and I learned a lot like… That penguins’ flippers and tail help them balance to walk up straight, or that when penguins slide on their bellies it’s called tobogganing. I am wondering where else penguins can live besides Antarctica?

    • Way to go, Brad, you learned a new thing or two about penguins! We’re glad to hear it! All penguins live in the Southern Hemisphere, usually in remote places! :)

  25. Hi Wonderopolis!

    I feel so bad for penguins because they can’t fly. Do you think that the other birds make fun of them? :(


    • Hi there, Knuzy! We are so happy you’re WONDERing about penguins with us today! While they can’t fly, they sure can stay warm in freezing temperatures! We think all the animals, birds included, appreciate one another’s strengths! :)

  26. Dear

    It’s so weird that penguins are a type of bird but they cannot fly. I thought all birds flew. I did not know that penguins had flippers not wings. Sliding on your belly to move sounds weird.

    • WOW, it sounds like you learned quite a few new things about penguins, Gabby! We always assumed that birds of all kinds could fly, but we were glad to Wonder about the different characteristics and abilities of penguins! We are glad that we don’t have to slide on our bellies to move from place to place, that’s for sure! We bet it would be an adventure if we did! :)

  27. Penguins are my favorite animal! They are soooooooooo cute! Anyone heard of Cookie the Penguin? It’s a really cute penguin video on YouTube!

  28. Thank you for having such a great wonder. We also wondered why penguins cannot fly. This was right on what we researched. Thank you for reaffirming this question.

    • Thank you for being such awesome Wonder Friends, Mrs. Kahler’s 2nd grade class! It sounds like you’ve been waddling around as you Wonder about those arctic creatures: penguins! While they may not be able to fly, they are great in the water (and they sure can stay warm)! Have you checked out this soaring Wonder: #28– Why Do Birds Fly in a V? http://wonderopolis.org/wonder/birds-and-the-letter-v/ :)

  29. Hi Wonderopolis, we have been learning all about penguins this week, but we still have some questions. Could you help us answer them?

    1. Are there any other predators besides seals?
    2. How many kinds of penguins are there?
    3. Why do penguins lay on their backs?
    4. Why do penguins waddle when they are running?
    5. Why do baby penguins have fluffy feathers?
    6. Why do penguins try to fly?
    7. Why do penguins have to sit on their eggs?
    8. How do penguins slide on their bellies?
    9. Can penguins slide on their backs?
    10. Can penguins change colors?
    11. How deep can penguins swim?
    12. What is blubber?
    13. Why do penguins live in cold places?
    14. Are penguins prey?
    15. Do penguins like people?
    16. Are sharks a predator to penguins?
    17. How can they swim?
    18. How do penguins catch fish?

    Hope you can answer some of our questions! Thank you!

    • Hi Mrs. Chamber’s First Grade! Wow, what WONDERful questions! We would love to answer some of them with you! Penguins are prey! Not only do seals prey on penguins, but sharks do too! Penguins sit on their eggs to protect their eggs from predators and to keep it warm during the developmental process! Blubber is actually fat that is stored to keep mammals warm during cold winter months! Check out Wonder #118 on Emperor Penguins to learn even more! http://wonderopolis.org/wonder/what-is-an-emperor-penguin/ Have you ever seen the movie March of the Penguins? It has some WONDERful facts about penguins! Thanks for WONDERing with us! :)

  30. I did not know very many things about penguins. One thing I did know was that they can not fly. Have you ever wondered why they can fly? I have a lot. Read the paragraph up a head and you will see why penguins cant fly!!!!
    Have fun reading!


    • WONDERful, Jordana! We are so glad that we were able to help answer your question! Thanks for Reading, Learning and WONDERing with us today! :-)

    • Penguins are pretty awesome, Emma K.! We just researched the penguin skeleton and confirmed that they do have bones in their flippers! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Why can’t penguins fly?
  • Are penguins good swimmers?
  • What is the largest penguin?

Wonder Gallery

PenguinVimeo Video

Try It Out

Today’s Wonder of the Day never really got off the ground, but you can keep the learning going by checking out one or more of the following activities with a friend or family member:

  • Do you love penguins? Who doesn’t, right? If you can’t get to Antarctica anytime soon, why not check out SeaWorld’s online Penguin Cam? Log on and check out penguins going about their daily business in San Diego. Have fun!
  • Why are penguins such good swimmers? It’s been a mystery up until recently. Scientists knew that Emperor Penguins could swim incredibly fast. They just weren’t sure why. That’s until they discovered their special secret: bubble power! Learn more about how Emperor Penguins get their incredible bursts of swimming speed by reading Emperor Penguins: Escape Velocity on National Geographic’s website.
  • Up for a challenge? Would you like to see a penguin fly? Let’s say you’re a wealthy but somewhat eccentric scientist. You’ve made it your life’s goal to see just one penguin fly. How might you achieve your goal? Would you travel to Antarctica to teach penguins how to fly? How would you do it? Would you put them on a diet and make them exercise to reduce their weight and strengthen their flippers into something more like wings? Or would you adopt some penguins and teach them other ways to fly? Perhaps you could teach them how to fly a hang glider! Or maybe you could even teach them how to fly an airplane or a helicopter! With your imagination, the sky’s the limit…and actually the sky is also the goal! Tell your Wonder Friends all about how you would achieve penguin flight by posting your ideas on Facebook. We can’t wait to see how creative you can be!

Still Wondering

In National Geographic Education’s Penguins: Built to Swim activity, children conduct a series of experiments to test how the physical characteristics of penguins help them to swim.

Test Your Knowledge

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Tomorrow’s stony Wonder of the Day is keeping an eye on you!

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