What’s in a porg?

The real-life counterparts of our favourite galactic fluffball.

While porgs tragically do not exist outside of the fictional Star Wars universe (and the Pinewood props department), they do have some real-life counterparts. You might not find any porgs on our planet, but you will see echoes of them in many of our native fauna, and by examining these more familiar creatures, we can learn a lot more about the cute but mysterious fluffballs.

Firstly and most obviously, as the porgs were originally created to digitally replace them, porgs are quite similar to puffins both in appearance and life history. Puffins are small seabirds that spend most of the year out on the open ocean, returning to land only in summer to breed. Puffins feed almost exclusively on fish, swimming underwater to catch them. This explains their colouring: their white undersides and black backs, also known as countershading, helps hide them from both oceanic and aerial predators. When seen from below, looking upwards, their white undersides are difficult to distinguish from the bright sky; and when seen from above, their dark backs are hard to spot against the dark ocean.

porgpuffincomparison

Like puffins, porgs have the same thick waterproof plumage (A), counter-shaded colouring (B), and webbed feet (C). This indicates they also spend a lot of time out on the water. Many of the porgs depicted in The Last Jedi are raising young so they certainly also return to land for their breeding season, although we can’t know if they also spend the rest of the year out on the open ocean, or stick closer to home.

However, you may have noticed a fairly large difference in that puffins have beaks, and porgs do not. They appear to instead possess a full complement of rather pointy teeth. This does not immediately exclude them from the avian family, as the ancestors of all birds are very well known for their pointy teeth: dinosaurs. Indeed, birds lost their teeth and gained beaks approximately 101 million years ago. Seeing as our porgs lived a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, perhaps they have not yet lost their teeth.

Teeth, obviously, are made to chew food, and by looking closely at teeth, you can learn what sort of food they are made to deal with. Peering at our porg’s chompers, you can clearly see a rather sharp and pointy tooth, also known as a canine. Canines are made for tearing and ripping at meat. We can conclude that porgs eat at least some meat, but are not necessarily exclusively carnivorous. We can also see some different, flatter teeth further back: these are molars, used for grinding and crushing food. If porgs were exclusive carnivores, these would also be pointier and lack any flat surfaces. Although in this view we cannot see the teeth in their upper jaw, the sculpting on Funko Pops! suggests a similar array as in the lower jaw, supported by the fact that here on earth, a hard pallet instead of teeth is found only in exclusive herbivores (e.g. llamas). A combination of molars and canines means our porgs are not carnivorous but omnivorous: they eat both meat and plant matter. As well as fish, or fish-like starwarsian creatures, perhaps porgs also graze on seaweed or clifftop grasses. Porgs being opportunistic omnivores could also explain their gleeful attempts to eat the Millennium Falcon and/or its contents.

teefs

Note how flat their nostrils appear – we can reasonably assume that porgs, as diving animals, likely have a similar adaptation to seals which allows them to seal their nostrils while underwater to avoid swallowing any seawater. Seabirds have an organ called a salt gland situated in the head near the nostrils. This allows them to get rid of any extra salt in their bodies. They sneeze this salty liquid out through their nostrils. If you’ve ever been to an aquarium or zoo and wondered why the windows on the penguins’ exhibits are so dirty, it’s from their salty snot!

Porgs also do not have any visible ears. This is common in birds where the ear is concealed beneath the feathers but we can also note a similarity to diving mammals which often have very small ear-flaps or none at all.

Their large eyes, as well as serving to drastically amp up their cuteness factor, are usually found in the more nocturnal creatures of our world, as well as some marine mammals such as seals. This would indicate that they also hunt at night, or in areas that are very dark. This could be in the crepuscular depths of the oceans (cf squids, deep-sea fishes) or perhaps in the depths of the caves such as the one Rey discovers. Maybe the porgs even have cave-dwelling cousins. These relations of theirs would be considerably less cute, as animals that live exclusively in the dark will eventually lose their sight as their eyes drastically reduce in size due to lack of use, and lose all pigment as there is no sunlight to protect from. These cave porgs would be albino, eyeless and rather more creepy than their upstairs cousins.

eyes

The wing shape of porgs is similar to that of puffins, and many other seabirds, in that the wings are much longer than they are wide. This high-aspect ratio allows for slower flight, important for diving birds, and for dynamic soaring, which uses the different wind speeds above the ocean to generate lift and save energy. Puffins also use their wings to propel themselves underwater as they pursue fish. However, porg wings are considerably smaller in proportion to their body than puffins’. So much smaller, in fact, you might wonder how they get off the ground at all. Consider, however, that porgs are native to Ahch-To, an island steeped in the history of the Force. Other creatures in the Star Wars universe are known to use the Force, so perhaps the porgs use their connection to the Force to soar through the salt-laden skies of the island.

wingses

Porgs are rather spherical. While it is possible their use of the Force to fly has allowed them to accumulate some extra blubber to help insulate them from the cold waters of Ahch-To, most of their fluffiness is likely from feathers. Seabirds have much denser feathers than most birds, which serve to keep water out and warmth in. A soft and thick downy layer helps insulate their body heat from the cold water when they dive, and an outer waterproof layer keeps them from getting waterlogged which would weigh them down and leave them unable to fly. Puffins and other seabirds have a special gland called a preen gland which produces an oil, which they preen into their feathers to keep them waterproof.

The rather cute orange cheeks of some porgs may serve a purpose similar to the bright orange bill plates of puffins which develop in time to show off for the mating season and are moulted afterwards. While only some porgs have bright orange cheeks, the bill plates in puffins are not sexually dimorphic: both male and female puffins display them. Perhaps the orange cheeks of porgs are not a sign of gender but maturity, or simply a common variation in colouring.

By looking closely at an animal’s appearance, you can learn a huge amount about its habitat, prey, and life history. If we apply this to new, unknown creatures, whether they’re from here and now, a long time ago, or far, far away, there’s a whole wealth of information to be gleaned about that creature and its universe.