I've been trying to make a penguin-like humanoid race for a pretty long time now.

I want to make them as realistic as possible. And I know such creatures could not exist in the real world, but I want to use them in a fantasy world.

I already figured multiple things to make them more 'human'. For example: they developed cartilage teeth inside their beak, allowing them to chew their food instead of swallowing whole.

But what I have yet to figure is their hands. Penguins cannot fly. So could they have evolved in a way that the end of their wings have fingers, including a thumb, while still allowing them to swim efficiently? And if so, what would it look like?

  • $\begingroup$ Penguins of Madagascar is a great comedy example for research if you hand-wave a lot of science, why not evolve a tentacle like flipper grip it does limit you tho. $\endgroup$
    – user69935
    May 27, 2020 at 15:34
  • $\begingroup$ Understand it can't have a different wing than it does now and be equally efficient at both grabbing and swimming. A quick look at mammals and birds that evolved for a mostly aquatic lifestyle, as well as fish, is that you usually don't need fingers underwater cause your mouth is enough. To develop like a humanoid they might need to stray a bit from their aquatic lifestyle. $\endgroup$ May 27, 2020 at 16:15
  • $\begingroup$ Over the years there have been many "Can X evolve to Y?" questions on this site. They're basically all answered the same way: "Yes, given enough time anything can evolve into anything." This is principally because the science of evolution is in its uttermost infancy and the ability to exactly explain how something can or cannot evolve simply doesn't exist (not credibly, at least). So, knowing that the answer to "can X evolve to Y?" is always "yes!" Do you have something more specific to ask about? $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    May 27, 2020 at 16:45
  • $\begingroup$ Step 1: move them out of the frozen antarctic. Fingers(without heavy fur) and sub-sub-zero climate are not friends. $\endgroup$
    – PcMan
    Aug 30, 2021 at 8:27
  • $\begingroup$ note penguin do chew their food, they just do it in their crop using gastroliths, which works much better than using teeth. also earth birds only have the bones to form three fingers. look at hoatzin for birds with fingers. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Jan 8, 2023 at 4:49

2 Answers 2


Penguins do have fingers!



And look - there is a little vestigial claw that is anxious to evolve into your desired thumb.

You just need your aliens to kick back on their flippers and use their lower appendages to manipulate things. Like a Dug!

dug https://starwars.fandom.com/wiki/Dug/Legends?file=Tab-canon-black.png

  • $\begingroup$ I must say your idea sounds interesting to me! I never thought of it. However I find the idea of a penguin walking on its wings and using its feet to handle for example a bow and arrows quite...weird. But I guess I could get over that weird feeling and make it work. I appreciate your suggestion. $\endgroup$
    – Thormind
    May 27, 2020 at 19:44
  • $\begingroup$ @Thormind - you would sidestep the "penguins are cute bipedal little birdpeople" thing. The Dugs were the best thing about Phantom Menace; pretty creative alien body plan I think. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    May 27, 2020 at 20:17
  • $\begingroup$ No known Coelurosaur has become quadrupedal. Furthermore, there are no examples of animals that walk bipedally on their forelegs $\endgroup$ May 28, 2020 at 14:20
  • $\begingroup$ @IchthysKing - I am pleased to present you an example: this charming cat. Of course it is a cat. youtube.com/watch?v=OHq4Yf4ef3o $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Jan 7, 2023 at 19:02

When you as "could it evolve" you need to ask what evolutionary pressures and opportunities are presented to the creature. The problem with penguins in our world is that they have nothing to grab, and therefore wouldn't evolve grabbers. If you put the same creature in an environment where you have more sticks, rocks, and grabbing appropriate creatures, then the evolution becomes possible.

I'd suggest having their continent stay more north, so they become more like emus or ostriches, and then make them arboreal flightless birds.

The problem you'll run into is that, the closer they get to something that can grasp, the further they get from penguin-ness.


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