Waddling Into History: Huge Ancient Penguin Inhabited New Zealand

Human-sized penguin of pre-historic time found in New Zealand

Waddling Into History: Huge Ancient Penguin Inhabited New Zealand

The partly prepared skeleton of the Paleocene giant penguin Kumimanu biceae.

The Kumimanu biceae was likely an imposing sight on land or sea.

Icadyptes and Inkayacu were human-sized penguins with sharp, heron-like beaks that patrolled the coast of Peru more than 30 million years ago.

Researchers said on Tuesday the ancient penguin, called Kumimanu biceae, weighed almost 225 pounds, and was much bigger than the largest of these flightless seabirds alive today, the emperor penguin, which grows to about 4-1/4 feet and about 90 pounds.

Kumimanu and other early penguins had already developed typical penguin features including flipper-like wings and an upright stance. "Kumi manu" means "monster bird" in Maori, leaving no doubt about the size of the new discovery.

"It would have been very impressive: as tall as many people, and a very solid, muscly animal built to withstand frequent deep dives to catch its prey", said Alan Tennyson, vertebrate curator at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, another of the researchers in the study published in the journal Nature Communications. He has studied New Zealand fossil penguins but didn't participate in the new study. On Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017, researchers announced their find of fossils from approximately 60-55 million years ago, discovered in New Zealand, that put the creature at about 1.77 metres (5 feet, 10 inches) long when swimming, and 101 kilograms (223 pounds). "The fossils are therefore among the oldest known penguin remains, and it is remarkable that even these early forms reached an enormous size", said Dr. Gerald Mayr, from the Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt, Germany. The newcomers may also have hunted the big penguins, he said. Researchers in the study say that the change might have been influenced by the extinction of predatory dinosaurs-both marine and terrestrial-which created an ecological driver for giant penguins to spend more time hunting in the water.

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Fossil hunters chanced upon the prehistoric bones in sedimentary rock that formed 55m to 60m years ago on what is now Hampden beach in Otago in the country's South Island.

Some of Kumimanu's bones are bigger than their counterparts in any other penguin.

Penguins evolved from flying birds tens of millions of years ago, but lost the ability to get airborne and became accomplished swimmers instead. We now know, incredibly, that ancestral penguins survived the event that killed the big, non-bird dinos, and then rapidly blew up in size.

The researchers also offered a thesis as to why there are no giant penguins left roaming the Earth today.

"However, with the subsequent appearance of other large marine predators such as seals and toothed whales, the penguins faced new competition and predation - which may have led to their extinction", Mayr said in the statement.

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