MARS NEEDS… salmon?

By Phil Plait | June 8, 2009 2:30 pm

Man, I need to learn more biology. Not only did I not know know penguins could fly and live in space, but they also come from Mars!

Penguins in Antarctica

OK, fine. This was actually taken under water in Antarctica, so they’re not flying, they’re swimming, and that’s not Mars and its polar ice cap, it’s an air hole with light trickling through.

That’s why I don’t study biology. Martian space penguins would be a lot cooler.

Credit: National Geographic

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Humor, Pretty pictures

Comments (39)

  1. Doc

    Y’know, that image is somewhat reminiscent of the whole flying whale thing from Fantasia 2000.

    And now it’s time for …


    When we last left the starship Flippertrek, Captain Pingu had just ordered Dr. Strangeguin to send a flock of robot probes to the surface of Mars.

  2. Venton Thorn

    I think it looks more like the penguin mothership hidden in the clouds and the first wave of tuxedeod invaders are coming in.

    I for one welcome our Martian penguin overlords.

  3. Geoff

    It was believed that Penguins swam deep for their food until they actually put a camera on the back of one and studied their behavior. They swam down to get a vantage point of the fish near the ice and zeroed in on them from the dark.

    Science = cool.

  4. stellar ash

    I remember an old (very early) Bloom County comic that made a comment about photon flippers, but I can remember if it was in reference to Opus or a giant space walrus with photon filppers…

  5. stellar ash

    I remember an old (very early) Bloom County comic that made a comment about photon flippers, but I can’t remember if it was in reference to Opus or a giant space walrus with photon filppers…

  6. Jeff Fite

    MISS PENGUIN-EY: “Captain, our probes have called in to report that the surface of Mars is covered in pickled herring!”

    CAPTAIN PINGU: “Order them to collect samples and return, immediately!”

    MISS PENGUIN-EY: “They say, ‘No! We quit, and we’re not coming back!'”

    CAPTAIN PINGU: “The Robot Penguin Probes are revolting?”

    DR. STRANGEGUIN: “They certainly are!”

    (Bridge crew erupts in laughter)

  7. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    But if penguins are from Mars, fishes must be from Venus, no? Stands to reason a school of fish will more easily take to the dense atmosphere of Venus than flounder on dry Mars.

    In any case, seems penguins as (I assume) opportunity feeders mostly eat krill, squid and small fishes (typically sardines and anchovies).

    But they definitely not need salmon. The web tells us that salmon competes with penguins for food:

    Although the sight of salmon leaping in Argentina’s world-renowned trout rivers may be enticing to anglers, the silvery predators could become a nightmare for the region’s marine life.

    The invaders threaten to deprive penguins and sea mammals of food—an ever-increasing risk given the number of invasive salmon currently escaping from fish farms in neighboring Chile, researchers say.

    The warning stems from the first study to show salmon swimming from the Pacific to the South Atlantic, where salmon don’t naturally occur.

  8. Supernova

    Wow, that’s an amazingly cool photo!

  9. Michael Suttkus, II

    Biologists have a hard enough time convincing people penguins don’t live with polar bears, and now you’re claiming that them living on Mars would be cool?

    Let me introduce you to something REALLY cool: Biogeographics. It’s pretty obvious that animals do not live everywhere. Polar bears could live at the south pole, but they don’t. Penguins could live at the north pole, but, again, they don’t. House cats are clearly capable of living all around the globe, as demonstrated by how readily they were naturalized when humans brought them with us on our explorations, and yet, naturally they lived in a small region of the earth.

    In the old days, facts like these were simply observed, noted, and cataloged. That there were differences was simply accepted, not really thought about. Then Charles Darwin came along and realized that where everything lived, the facts of their placement, was telling a story.

    Today, we in the biological community (I’m not an actual biologist, just a fan) see something truly cool in where animals (and plants and stuff) are. You may think space penguins are cool, but where penguins live (and don’t live) tells us a story of crashing continents and changing ecosystems. We see entire dynasties of species rising and falling, life colonizing new places, and millions of years of slow change leading to stunning new evolutionary developments!

    Space penguins, bah! That would just give creationists more ammunition. Biology is cooler without them.

  10. jf

    The BBC “documented” flying penguins:


  11. Brian

    stellar ash:

    “Identify the alien, Mr. Spock!
    “It’s a…”
    “Yes, Spock! What is it?”
    “It’s a humongous walrus!”
    “Cancel red alert.”
    “Let’s beam Mr. Spock into a wall.”
    “Well, I mean. It’s a space walrus. With photon flippers or something.”

  12. MadScientist

    Don’t worry; people are working on creating a mutant penguin which flies like a puffin and which breathes CO2 rather than oxygen. This is one of those secret bio-geo-engineering projects to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere; the penguins don’t eat salmon though, they eat squid.

    Once perfected we can send a few to Mars; although the CO2 atmosphere may be thin, it’s a fairly high purity CO2 and would be equivalent to a mutant penguin atop Mauna Kea except of course for the air pressure; the mutant penguins should be able to fly on Mauna Kea but I doubt they can fly on Mars unless we strap compressed gas thrusters to them.

    Before we launch the penguins we would need to create a supply of terrestrial CO2 breathing squids to colonize Mars and allow our penguins to survive. The squid will be scavenging cannibal squid rather than predatorial omnivores, so the squid colony won’t need anything at all to thrive on Mars other than the CO2 atmosphere.

  13. Martin Moran

    I’m going to have to save this picture in both my astronomy and nature folders!

  14. Darren Garrison

    They may come from Mars, but they moved to Pluto.

  15. Why does Douglas Adams come to mind?

    (Actually, I know why)


  16. Ray

    Martian Space Penguins. That would explain a lot about the Penguins of Madagascar show on Nickelodeon.

  17. Flying sardines

    Hah! This is where I come in … they’re just after Flying sardines – but not catching me! 😉

    Great photo! 8)

  18. Zar

    A likely story, Mr. Plait (if in fact that IS your real name). There are obviously flying penguins on Mars (they’re Martian Bigfoot’s primary food source) and you and the government and Big Pharma are trying to cover it up so you can make money off it somehow.

  19. Joao

    So, this means humans are the fourth most intelligent species on the planet?

  20. Daniel J. Andrews

    Michael Suttkus II….for not being a biologist and “just” a fan, that is a fine piece of prose you’ve written there especially that second last paragraph. You nicely captured the dynamics of something that we don’t live long enough to see, and made it sound exciting, replete with mystery and just waiting for the observant detective to make sense of the clues. I’d vote you for an honorary biology-lover award over some of the real biologists that I know.

  21. “So, this means humans are the fourth most intelligent species on the planet?”

    You are counting the mice, right? And don’t forget the camels (if you’re a Terry Pratchett fan).

  22. C H

    “The Flying Martian Penguins” would be a great name for a band.

  23. 22. C H Says:
    “The Flying Martian Penguins” would be a great name for a band.

    Or a cheap B movie… or ’50’s movie parody/homage.


    P.S. Check out

  24. American Voyager

    Looks like a painting for a SciFi book cover. Cool picture!

  25. Diego

    I’m pretty sure that earthly penguins don’t eat much salmon, but I can’t be as sure about Martian Space penguins.

  26. SionH

    I tell ya, those beaks don’t half smart when they anally probe you.


  28. HappyHead
  29. Rob

    Cool! Now Martian Bigfoot will have something to eat! I’m sure penguins are much more satisfying than the rocks he must have been eating before.

  30. Stone Age Scientist

    This is off topic for me, but the picture & Phil’s mention of penguins flying in space reminded me of Terry Pratchett’s The Colour of Magic. Here’s a picture of Discworld in The Colour of Magic.


  31. Joe Meils

    SKIPPER: Just keep thinking cute and cuddly, Boys!
    KOWALSKI: Skipper, I believe there’s a 93% chance of martian herring at the south pole.
    SKIPPER: Right Boys! Operation Tastey Pop is in effect! Rico, regurgitate us some re-entry sheilding!
    RICO: (Gag, hawrg!)

  32. 31. Stone Age Scientist Says:
    This is off topic for me, but the picture & Phil’s mention of penguins flying in space reminded me of Terry Pratchett’s The Colour of Magic.

    You should check out the animated adaptations of some of the Discworld stories (I have VHS of Wyrd Sisters, and have seen Soul Music via NetFlix) and the 3-D animation of The Great A’tuin… some nice graphics.

    (There is also the live-action Hogfather, and another pending)


    P.S. Are you aware that Pratchett has admitted to being in early stages of Alzheimer’s? SO sorry to hear that.

  33. Stone Age Scientist

    Hi John Paradox @ #34,

    No, I’m not aware that Mr. Pratchett has the early stages of Alzheimer’s. In fact (and I hope I am forgiven for this), I never knew of Mr. Pratchett at all until that fateful day earlier this year when I chanced upon The Colour of Magic at the local Blockbuster store (we have no Netflix here, sorry). The cover looked nice, had Sean Astin looking like a goofy Hawaiian tourist, and had an intriguing plot, that I took the chance to rent the video. To be honest, that was my first encounter with Terry Pratchett (and to think that he has been around for a long time now!).

    I’ll be sure to look into the animated adaptations you wrote about. Thank you. Now, if only I could find them here!

    Btw, I liked the way the eggs hatched in space. :)

  34. Stone Age Scientist

    Phil, you wrote,

    That’s why I don’t study biology.

    Uh-oh, PZ Myers is gonna be whippin’ yo’ asstronomy.

  35. SAS: RE: Pratchett.

    Blockbuster has TCOM? Shoot, it’s on the ‘save’ list at NetFlix. I’d read about the making of the show (it apparently airs, like Hogfather, on one of the DirecTV channels, not on local cable)

    Of course, the novels are even better. I recall Leo Laporte, Chief TWiT, mentioned a Discworld novel in his ad being available in audio.


  36. Stone Age Scientist

    John @ #37,

    You have to know that I don’t live in the US. And yes, TCOM has been saddling the shelves of Blockbuster for a few months now. It may have been in February or March when I rented it.

    Thank you for mentioning the books. I’ll try to get a hold of them when I’m in Taipei. If they don’t have the English edition there, I may just have to order from Amazon. (Though, reading in Chinese aint bad, either. It’s just that certain nuances are lost.)

  37. Alex

    My first thought was “That’s not Mars, it’s Jupiter, they’re just doing some funky color shifting on the red spot.”

    My brain is weird.


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