60 million years ago, penguins gave up flight for swimming. This way.

Penguins are perhaps best known as flightless birds whose feathers help them “fly” through Antarctic waters. But penguins lost their ability to fly and instead became streamlined swimmers about 60 million years ago, long before the Antarctic ice sheet formed – and researchers have now uncovered how that happened.

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


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