MadSci Network: Zoology

Re: Why do penguins have fur?

Date: Wed Sep 1 08:43:38 1999
Posted By: Kurt Wollenberg, Post Doc Genetics, North Carolina State University
Area of science: Zoology
ID: 936054377.Zo

While it may look like penguins have fur, they are really covered with 
feathers. Having feathers is one of the things that makes a bird a bird.
Even though the feathers covering penguins may not look very much like the 
feathers you can get from a chicken, if you could look at them closely 
(perhaps even under a microscope) you would see that they have a lot of 
similarities. For both the chicken and the penguin, the feathers consist of 
a central shaft with a vane extending from either side of the shaft. The 
vanes are made up of thin structures called barbs. The barbs have tiny 
hooked structures extending off of them. These hooklets grasp neighboring 
barbs, making the feather appear to be a solid surface. 

Feathers come in many different shapes and sizes. The beautiful tail plumes of 
the peacock, the goose down found in many pillows, and the whisker-like bristles 
surrounding the mouth of the whip-poor-will are all varieties of feathers. 

If you would like to learn more about feathers (or birds in general) the 
branch of biology dealing with birds is called ornithology. Your library 
should have a number of books about birds that you could read, and all the 
field guides to birds have an introductory chapter about the biology of 
birds. A good online resource is BIRDNET, found at the following URL:

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