More than 60 million years ago, penguins gave up flight to swim. Here’s how.

Penguins are perhaps best known for being flightless birds whose wings help them “fly” through the freezing waters of Antarctica. But penguins lost their ability to fly and became simplified swimmers around 60 million years ago, long before the Antarctic Ice Sheet formed – and researchers have now revealed how it happened .

A new study of penguin fossils and the genomes of current and recently extinct penguins has identified an array of genetic adaptations birds have made to live an aquatic lifestyle; from sensitive vision to underwater blue tones to genes related to blood oxygenation, and even changes in bone density. Together, the findings suggest that penguins as a group adapted to survive severe environmental changes that unfolded over millions of years.

From flight to flightless

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