Move over Ewoks. Shut your big, stupid mouth Jar Jar - there’s a new mascot in town. As Star Wars Episode 8 hits cinemas this Christmas, expect to see your world increasingly overflowing with porgs.
Yes, porgs. Found on Ahch-To, the planet where Rey meets Luke at the end of The Force Awakens, Director Rian Johnson says that he was inspired to create them after seeing real life puffins during filming. Since, he has incorporated them into the new film to provide some lighter moments. In the most recent Last Jedi trailer, a porg can be seen on the dash of the Millennium Falcon as Chewie pilots.
Not much else is known about porgs at the moment - other than that they look adorable. But Johnson is on record as having said that they are seabirds, and can fly short distances.
And this makes us wonder - if porgs were real, could they actually fly? And what else can we learn about them based on their appearance? To find out, we contacted a couple of actual experts, and amazingly they took us seriously.
Dr Holly Kirk is an ornithologist and biologist who has spent a decade studying seabirds - including puffins. So I asked her - is the puffin the Earth-bound creature most analogous to porgs?
“I think the comparison with puffins is pretty fair, although they also look like a closely related bird, the little auk”, she told me, adding. “Given that porg wings seem to imitate penguins' flippers, perhaps another comparison would be with the smallest species of penguin, the little penguin - Eudyptula minor”.
A real life porg?
Can Porgs Fly?
So I asked her the obvious question: porgs have really small wings… could they really fly? Would it be physically possible... if we assume Earth-like gravity?
Here’s what she said:
“There are two main issues with the porg's flight abilities. As you have already noticed, the cute little creatures have very small wings compared to their body size. Birds generally have wing shapes and sizes that reflect their particular lifestyle, and wing loading (the ratio of body mass to wing area) varies greatly too. In general, the heavier a bird, the larger the wing size required to allow for flight. Faster flight speed can also help by increasing lift.”
“However, more of an issue for the porg's ability to fly could be that their ‘wings’ do not look fully articulated (remember a bird's wing is essentially a modified forelimb, with an elbow and wrist joint), making the wing more like a stiffer ‘flipper’ as seen on a penguin. As everyone knows, penguins cannot fly, instead being perfectly adapted for life underwater. This, more than the body size to wing size ratio, makes me inclined to suspect that should porgs somehow find their way to planet earth, they may have difficulty keeping up with the puffins.”
“Who knows though, maybe porgs have a secret advantage hidden in their little round bodies? Perhaps they are filled with helium, or a similar gas lighter than air, making it easier to take to the skies!”
So, what if Porgs could fly? Vanessa Amaral-Rogers, the RSPB’s (newly appointed) resident Porginologist has written a full species profile on the new creatures - even coining Porganus skywalkerii as the species scientific name. She suspects that we might not have seen porgs in their final form...
“Whilst porgs do have wings, it appears that only fully grown adults can fly. It is thought that the birds which have been spotted are immature specimens, and given the size of their wings would not be capable of lift-off. Adults would only be capable of flight in short bursts, possibly as an escape tactic – propelling themselves out of the water to escape the many large sea-based predators that would be present on a mostly oceanic world.”
And if it turns out that porgs can fly, Holly speculates that they might emulate some clever puffin behaviour - especially if they face other predators on Ahch-To:
“Atlantic puffins perform a spectacular ‘wheeling’ behaviour when they are returning to the breeding colony. The birds fly round and round in big flocks, before individually deciding to land near their burrow and run inside. It's possible this is an adaptation to avoid kleptoparasitism by waiting gulls (who will try to steal a puffin's fish).”
Are Porgs Hunters?
Flight (or lack thereof) isn’t the only thing we can learn about porgs from their biology. Despite looking adorable and harmless, Vanessa speculates that porgs could in fact be hunters.
“Porgs are streamlined hunters, sleek in their shape to cut through water, aiding in their hunt for fish. Like most predators, porgs have forward-facing eyes. It is probable that they are used to hunting in murky waters given the size as of their eyes, as well as the presence of a nictitating membrane, a translucent third eyelid which protects from seawater whilst maintaining perfect vision”, she explains.
“Males are larger than females which suggests that the two genders hunt for different sized prey – a survival tactic ensuring that sexes don’t compete against each other. Although they are birds, the beak has become redundant; they now have mammal-like mouths similar to that of seals which is perfectly adapted for hunting fish.”
Holly seems to agree - noting the similarities to puffins:
“Puffins are also famous for catching large numbers of fish (especially sand eels) in their beaks. Porgs don't have beaks, but perhaps they can hold a few fishes in their not-so-little mouths!”
Are Porgs Endangered?
So Luke has spent recent years on this rather desolate island, right? So you have to wonder… what has he been eating? He couldn’t… oh god, it’s too horrible to think about. Has Luke Skywalker been eating porgs?
Horrifyingly, perhaps this isn’t unlikely.
“Online, it seems many people have expressed a desire to eat a porg. Since puffins have traditionally been eaten by people, perhaps this only further underlines the comparison”, Holly says.
“If an animal analogous to a seal exists on Ahch-To, perhaps Rey and Luke might recreate the dish kiviak, made of auks fermented inside a dead seal?”
If you think this looks delicious then you're a monster.
Sadly, Atlantic puffins (Fratercula arctica) - the sort found on Skellig, the real-life island that is now better known as Ahch-To, were officially listed as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature earlier this year.
“This is due to population declines recorded across its breeding range and follows trends seen for many seabird species. Seabirds are some of the most at-risk bird species, facing multiple threats including plastic pollution, competition with fisheries and climate change”, Holly explains.
But perhaps the power of the Force can change things for the better?
“If the comparison of puffins with porgs helps highlight these conservation issues, that can only be a good thing!”, she says.
If you’d like to learn more, a great place to start is the RSPB’s Project Puffin.