Life kinda sucks for a penguin. Between not being able to fly and the constant threat of being thrashed about by a leopard seal, orca or shark, there’s danger lurking around every corner. On top of that, many choose to live a frigid existence in Antarctica. As if life wasn’t hard enough, science has some other cold hard facts about penguins: they can’t even taste the fresh fish or fruits they consume. Due to the evolution, the flightless birds seem to only only experience two of the five basic tastes — salty and sour — and it’s all evolution’s fault.
Science Daily explains:
Unlike receptors for sour and salty, the taste receptors required for detecting sweet, umami, and bitter tastes are temperature sensitive. They don’t work when they get really cold anyway. In other words, even if penguins had those taste receptors, the receptors wouldn’t be much use to many of them.
“Penguins eat fish, so you would guess that they need the umami receptor genes, but for some reason they don’t have them,” said Jianzhi “George” Zhang of the University of Michigan.
According to Zhang, since the birds eat like gluttons, they don’t really savor the taste of their meal anyway. “Their behavior of swallowing food whole, and their tongue structure and function, suggest that penguins need no taste perception, although it is unclear whether these traits are a cause or a consequence of their major taste loss,” he said.
(Photo: Anne Fröhlich)