Fat penguins have trouble walking

A study entitled ‘Fat king penguins are less steady on their feet’ indicates that humans are not the only species plagued by the obesity epidemic.

After spending some time feasting on their favourite fish at sea, king penguins return to the shore for a long journey to their breeding colony. It seems however that this journey is made somewhat more difficult as they are carrying a large and heavy belly. Fat accumulates on their front to help with chick-provisioning and looking after their young. It’s not all bad though, here at the breeding colony they must fast for one month, where they survive on their fat stores and subsequently lose the weight. The ultimate crash diet.

King penguins gather in large numbers a breeding colonies


A study carried out by Willener et al (2016) determined that the extra weight gain led to changes in the individuals walking gait. Meaning, they had to change the way they walked (or waddled) to compensate for the extra time spent feasting on their favourite foods at sea.

So how do they know this? The researchers set about to determine this by putting heavier penguins to the test on treadmills and comparing them with their slimmer peers. The more svelte penguins waddled less while the heavier penguins swayed from side to side considerably more and at a greater angle. This is likely to alter their centre of mass ultimately lead the fatter penguins to be less steady on their not-so-happy feet.


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Photograph: Brian GratwickeLiam Quinn