MessageToEagle.com – A fossil of a giant penguin with a body length of around 150 centimeters ((4.92 feet)) has been discovered in New Zealand.
The new species is among the oldest penguin fossils in the world and lived about 61 million years ago in the region of the Waipara River in New Zealand, known for their avian fossils, which were embedded in marine sand a mere 4 million years after the dinosaurs became extinct.
“Among the finds from these sites, the skeletons of Waimanu, the oldest known penguin to date, are of particular importance,” said Gerald Mayr of the Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt.
“What sets this fossil apart are the obvious differences compared to the previously known penguin remains from this period of geological history.”
“The leg bones we examined show that during its lifetime, the newly described penguin was significantly larger than its already described relatives. Moreover, it belongs to a species that is more closely related to penguins from later time periods,” he said, in a press release.
The bones differ significantly from those of other discoveries of the same age and indicate that the diversity of Paleocene penguins was higher than previously assumed, write scientists in their paper.
According to the researchers, the size of the gigantic penguin, makes it almost as big as Anthropornis nordenskjoeldi, the largest known fossil penguin, which lived in Antarctica around 45 to 33 million years ago, thus being much younger in geological terms.
“This shows that penguins reached an enormous size quite early in their evolutionary history, around 60 million years ago,” adds Mayr.
Moreover, the recent discovery reveals that the large penguins presumably already moved with the upright, with the waddling gait characteristic for today’s penguins.
“The discoveries show that penguin diversity in the early Paleocene was clearly higher than we previously assumed,” says Mayr, and he adds, “In turn, this diversity indicates that the first representatives of penguins already arose during the age of dinosaurs, more than 65 million years ago.”