Focus-Science and Technology - - Discoveries -

Here’s one pen­guin you def­i­nitely wouldn’t want to p-p-pick up! Re­searchers have dis­cov­ered a 61-mil­lion-year- old fos­sil be­long­ing to a Waimanu – a gi­ant pen­guin that stood 1.5m (4ft 11in) tall.

The fos­sil was un­earthed near the Waipara River in New Zealand’s Can­ter­bury re­gion, and dates back to the Palaeocene era. The bones dif­fer sig­nif­i­cantly in struc­ture from other Waimanu fos­sils dis­cov­ered from the same pe­riod, in­di­cat­ing that there was a great deal of di­ver­sity amongst them. This could mean the evo­lu­tion of pen­guins started much ear­lier than pre­vi­ously thought, per­haps even dur­ing the age of di­nosaurs.

“This shows that pen­guins reached an enor­mous size quite early in their evo­lu­tion­ary his­tory, around 60 mil­lion years ago,” said re­searcher Ger­ald Mayr. “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 pre­vi­ously de­scribed rel­a­tives,” Mayr con­tin­ued. “More­over, it be­longs to a species that is more closely re­lated to pen­guins from later time pe­ri­ods.”

The an­i­mal also likely dif­fered from its more prim­i­tive rel­a­tives in an­other key way: it moved with the up­right, wad­dling gait char­ac­ter­is­tic of mod­ern pen­guins.

Pre­his­toric pen­guins were much larger than the birds we know and love to­day

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