Scientists Discover the Biggest Penguin Ever Fossil, and It Was a Big Lie

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While digging through the rocks of New Zealand’s South Island, a team of international scientists came across an exquisite discovery: fossilized evidence of two new species of penguins that roamed (or waddled) the Earth a long time ago. over 50 million years.

But above all, one of the penguins, nicknamed Kumimanu fordycei, is probably the largest to have ever lived. Co-author of a study on the discovery, published Wednesday in the Journal of Paleontology had a rather compelling way of putting it.

“At about 350 pounds, he would have weighed more than [basketball player] Shaquille O’Neal at the height of his dominance!” Daniel Field of Cambridge University said in a report. For comparison, emperor penguins, aka the largest penguins currently living, weigh a maximum of 100 pounds (45 kilograms), according to a statement. And a male ostrichthe largest bird currently alive, can weigh up to around 290 pounds.

As for the size of this ancient (and possibly slam-dunking) penguin, the study’s first author, Daniel Ksepka of the Bruce Museum in Connecticut, tweeted an image of what he calls the “best estimate ” of the team. He appears to be about the size of a human (if not bigger), but luckily he appears much smaller than the monstrous penguin should inhabit the earth post-humanity by paleontologist Dougal Dixon in 1981. Dixon envisioned a 12-meter (nearly 40-foot) behemoth. Yeah.

The other species, named Petradyptes stonehousei, made up five of the nine specimens revealed, but was likely only slightly larger than a modern emperor penguin, the team said. He weighed about 110 pounds (50 kilograms).

Together, the two new species have confirmed to scientists that penguins became very important early in their evolutionary history, and the discovery sheds light on how the fins of these flightless birds have changed over time.

“Fossils give us evidence for the history of life, and sometimes that evidence is really surprising,” Field said. “Many fossil penguins grew to enormous sizes, easily eclipsing the largest penguins alive today.”

Skeletal illustrations of Kumimanu fordycei, Petradyptes stonehousei, and a modern emperor penguin, showing the sizes of new fossil species.

Simone Giovanardi

Mega Penguin Analysis

Focusing on an iconic penguin trait, the flippers, the team used techniques such as laser scanning and environmental analysis to estimate various aspects of the two extreme species.

First, the team used laser scanners to create digital models of the bones and compare them to other fossil species such as the emperor penguin. This is how researchers began to extrapolate the probable size of prehistoric birds. But some information was also gleaned by checking the rocks in which all the specimens – fin bones and muscle attachment points – were found to begin with.

The rocks themselves have been identified as being around 57 million years old, and the fossil species would have lived between 59.5 and 55.5 million years ago.

This timeline is at the end of the Paleocene era, and more specifically, it is about 5 to 10 million years after the end of the Cretaceous extinction, when the asteroid Chicxulub wiped out the dinosaurs. In a way, that means the giant penguin might have had more peace than you’d expect for an ancient animal – unfazed on a more or less dino-free Earth.

“Kumimanu fordycei would have been an utterly stunning sight on New Zealand beaches 57 million years ago, and the combination of its size and the incomplete nature of its fossil remains makes it one of the most intriguing ever found,” Field said. said.

And if you’re wondering if the lifestyle of a hulking penguin differs from the daily rituals of the cute little penguins we’re used to, the answer is probably yes.

For example, the researchers explain, a larger penguin could capture larger prey, retain body temperature better in cold waters, and could possibly migrate across the world and establish residences beyond its hometown.

Many ancient animals appear to have been much larger than their modern day ancestors, such as dinosaurs, woolly mammoths and even this dog-sized scorpion. Some experts speculate that this is due to environmental factors such as higher oxygen content in the air. Others believe it could be due to efficient food absorption, as suggested by the Penguin Discovery Team.

“Large warm-blooded marine animals living today can dive to great depths. This raises questions as to whether Kumimanu fordycei had an ecology that penguins do not have today, being able to reach deeper waters and finding food that is not accessible to living penguins,” Daniel Thomas of Massey University and co-author of the study said in a statement.

The newly unearthed giant species dubbed Kumimanu fordycei was named after Ewan Fordyce, professor emeritus at the University of Otago in New Zealand. “Without Ewan’s field program, we wouldn’t even know there are many iconic fossil species out there, so it’s only fitting that he has his own penguin namesake,” Ksepka said in a statement.

The smaller find, Petradyptes stonehousei, has a much more literal name. It is derived from the Greek words “petra” for rock and “dyptes” for diver. Stonehousi, however, pays homage to the late Bernard Stonehouse, whom the release calls the first person to observe the emperor penguin’s full reproductive cycle.

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