Penguin walk saves energy

The funny walk is a penguin's way to deal with short legs

Published: Saturday 04 July 2015

Making the best of their body< ever wondered why penguins strut in that peculiar fashion? Is it cumbersome for the birds? Research says rocking from side to side is the most efficient way for the birds to move, given their short legs. Conserving energy is vital as the birds have to walk more than 100 kilometre across the Antarctic ice to find open water for swimming and fishing in.

Researchers believe understanding the gait of penguins could lead to new treatments for people with walking disabilities. The knowledge might help people with increased lateral movements, such as pregnant women and obese individuals. This study could also help develop better robotic designs, say the researchers.

The research is based on experiments and studies carried out on five emperor penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri) at San Diego in usa. The birds were encouraged to waddle across a special platform that measured the side-to-side and fore-and-aft forces exerted while walking. Studying their walk showed that penguins save energy by waddling. "We believed that if penguins move forward by rocking side to side they waste energy," said Rodger Kram, one of the researchers. "What we have found is that the hindrance caused by short legs to efficient walking is overcome by waddling."

Their apparent awkwardness on land is more than compensated by their elegance in water. They are hydrodynamically efficient, arguably the best swimmers for their size. Jeremy Rayner, a professor at Leeds University in uk and expert in animal locomotion, says the study showed that penguins make the best of their design.

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