04 March 2016

Penguin brains not changed by loss of flight

This is an ancient penguin skull and endocast.
Scale bar is 2.5 cm and letters indicate parts of the brain:
ce, cerebellum; el, endosseus labyrinth; fl, floccular lobe;
ol, optic lobe; os, occipital sinus impression; pb, pituitary bulb;
t, telencephalon; w, wulst.
Photo credit: Courtesy of James Proffitt.
Losing the ability to fly gave ancient penguins their unique locomotion style. But leaving the sky behind didn't cause major changes in their brain structure, researchers from The University of Texas at Austin suggest after examining the skull of the oldest known penguin fossil.

The findings were published in the Journal of Anatomy in February.

"What this seems to indicate is that becoming larger, losing flight and becoming a wing-propelled diver does not necessarily change the [brain] anatomy quickly," said James Proffitt, a graduate student at the university's Jackson School of Geosciences who led the research.

"The way the modern penguin brain looks doesn't show up until millions and millions of years later."