The penguin’s waddle sure is cute. But why do they do it?

A study by scientists was done in 2000 that examined the movement of penguins during their waddle and looked at how much energy is used by their locomotion.

penguin waddle fallAs a penguin rocks to one side, it stores the kinetic energy of its swing as potential energy, which it then uses to power its next step. In this way, it recovers eighty per cent of the energy that it expends on each stride, one of the highest values reported for any animal. Why, then, the apparent inefficiency? In their study, Griffin and Kram blamed the short legs. Penguins must take smaller, quicker strides than other birds of the same weight, which requires the calorie-intensive use of fast-twitch muscle fibres. Their gait compensates for their physiological shortcoming. If they didn’t waddle, they would be even more inefficient than they already are.

At the London Zoo a group of scientists is reexamining the penguin waddle using metal “force plates” and fancy cameras. Convincing penguins to walk down a manmade corridor is no easy feat.

Read more about their fascinating study on the New Yorker.

Photo by Christopher.Michel