Why Do Penguins Waddle? (Answered)

by Chukay Alex
Updated on

Penguins waddle as a form of walking. They are very heavy, they have short legs and massive feet, their feet are also webbed so the most effective way for them to “walk”  on land is to waddle.

Penguins have evolved to be more adapted to living in water, their bodies have adapted accordingly.

One of the trade-offs for being so good when living in water is the fact that they are not great at moving on land.

In this article, we are going to explore a number of things related to the movement of Penguins on land.

Penguins are unique and fascinating creatures, knowing cool things like this about them is going to be a fun experience.

What Does it Mean to Waddle?

Why Do Penguins Waddle

Waddling is a form of movement, it is a form of walking sluggishly and Penguins are best known for this.

When an animal waddles it takes small steps while its body swings from one side to the other, this is a very clumsy kind of movement.

Penguins waddle because  They are more adapted to living or moving in the water than they are to moving on land.

Related: Here is an article I wrote on why do penguins build nests

Why Do Penguins Waddle?

The basic reason Penguins waddle is because they have evolved to be more aquatic birds than land birds.

 Some of the other reasons Penguins waddle include:

  • Design of Legs: It has been observed that Penguins have very unique legs, as they are aquatic birds their legs are not adapted to walking on land. From the evolution of their leg, you can easily see that they are better suited for swimming than walking.  because of the disproportionately big upper body of Penguins their legs always appear short, this doesn’t mean that their legs are actually short, It just appears that way because most of the upper part of your legs is covered by their feathers.  However, The legs are still not as effective on land as they are in the water.
  • Method of weight distribution:  The way Penguins distribute their weight when they walk is also a reason that they waddle. Unlike most birds that walk on their toes when walking on land, Penguins tend to walk on their soles instead of their toes. This is not an efficient way to distribute their weight when they walk if they want to walk effectively but this is how Penguins do it so it contributes to the fact that they waddle.
  • Use of Energy:  As already stated, Penguins are aquatic birds and they are more adapted to moving in water so when they’re on land In order to use the least amount of energy when moving On land they waddle. Waddling does not require Penguins to lift their legs while they walk and this is very good to save energy. Ordinarily, they would spend at least double the energy they spend while waddling if they were to walk normally. For any animal, this is a good thing because conserving energy can be the difference between survival and death.
  •  Size of feet: the feet of Penguins are massive and this makes movement on land difficult for them because their feet are hard to move. The feet of Penguins are so disproportionate to the size of their body that sometimes it looks ridiculously big.  Although it comes with its advantages when they are in the water but on land it doesn’t have many advantages. On land, their feet become a restricting factor rather than an advantage.
  •  Weight: Penguins are heavy birds, you can easily deduce this once you see them. This is part of the reason that they do not fly, birds that are heavy tend to be flightless birds. The weight of Penguins contributes to the fact that they waddle because they cannot easily move on land well they are so heavy.

Even though Penguins waddle to save energy they still end up spending double the energy any birds of their size spend walking. This is quite ironic, isn’t it?

Do Penguins Have Knees?

This is a very valid question and it is a curious one. Penguins do have knees. A lot of people usually wonder if Penguins have knees or not because of the length their legs seem to be,

And The fact that they waddle.  of course, it is a logical thing to assume that if an animal like Penguins do not have knees it would cause them to waddle.

When the legs of Penguins are X-rayed it becomes obvious that they have knees.

The typical Penguin’s leg has fibula, tibia, femur, and knees. The combination of bones that humans have in their feet. isn’t that surprising?

Just imagine Penguins having this same combination of bones as humans do in their feet and still waddling.

Even the fact that a Penguin’s legs look so short is more of an optical illusion than fact because the feet of Penguins especially the upper part Are covered by the feathers of the Penguins.

So, conclusively Penguins have knees, the fact that they have knees doesn’t stop them from waddling.

Why Do Penguins Not Fly?

Well, Penguins do fly but they swim in water.

Penguins are known to be aquatic birds and this is the primary reason they do not fly because their bodies have become more swimming friendly than flight friendly.

For this Penguins have stiff and short wings which are regarded as flippers. Their wings do not fold because the bones in the wings are inflexible, the joints are fused.

Something like this is good for swimming and not for flight.

Penguins are so heavy that flight would be difficult for them, for a bird to fly the Strength of its wings must be more than its weight and this is not the case with Penguins.

The bodies of Penguins are great for swimming and diving into water and This is why they have evolved not to fly.

How Do Penguins Walk on Ice?

Penguins do not really walk on ice they waddle on ice.

They have sharp claws that hook the eyes while they walk or waddle.

Is a penguin’s waddle more efficient than a human’s walk?

Studies have been conducted about this and there are dimensions to the results.

Based on the use of energy and recovery of energy Penguins are substantially more efficient at recovering energy when they walk because of how they waddle as opposed to humans.

Based on effectively walking by using gravity and increasing speed humans are more efficient than Penguins are.

So based on energy recovery rate the waddle of Penguins is more efficient than the walk of humans.  

This is because penguins swing from side to side while humans lean forward when we walk.

Can Penguins Walk as Fast as Humans?

Penguins cannot work as fast as humans because the legs of humans I’m more adapted to walking on land while the legs of Penguins are more adapted to swimming in water.


Every animal needs to move in their habitat and Penguins are no different, their waddle may be funny but it is effective for helping them move around on land.

They are more adapted to swimming so that is where their strength lies.

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About the author

Chukay Alex

Chukay is a season writer and farmer who enjoys farming and growing plants in his backyard farm. When he is not farming you can find him at the nearest lawn tennis court, hitting a mean backhand down the line.


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