Waddling Down The Red Carpet

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King Penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus), at the Falkland Islands. Photo by Ben Tubby, flickr.com, cc 2.0.

If the state of the mainstream film industry is any indication of where an animal fits in public conscience it would be safe to say penguins are considered popular and charismatic. Eight or so prominent family films featuring penguins have been released since the 2004 debut of the seminal documentary/Morgan Freeman vehicle, March of the Penguins. Compare the media presence of penguins today to the 90s: all we got were The Wrong Trousers (awesome), The Pebble and the Penguin (terrifying), and Pingu (Swiss). Not only are we in a cultural pengstravaganza, we are also in the prime of a period of prolific penguinology (phew!). Famed evolutionary biologist and paleontologist George Gaylord Simpson saw potential in the mighty penguin and wrote a great deal on their evolutionary history and fossil record (see Simpson, 1946; Simpson, 1976). Today, scientists around the world continue working diligently to unravel the evolutionary story behind the strange anatomy, ecology, and behavior of these suave tuxedobeasts. To celebrate in-progress biomechanics work on penguins with Dr. John Hutchinson the debut post of this blog will feature one reason people seem to love penguins: their awkward albeit cute upright waddling gait. Continue reading