Oldest fossilized giant penguin found in New Zealand
Together with colleagues from New Zealand, Senckenberg scientist Dr. Gerald Mayr described a recently discovered fossil of a giant penguin with a body length of around 150 centimeters. The new find dates back to the Paleocene era and, with an age of approx. 61 million years, counts among the oldest penguin fossils in the world.
artists impression of the giant penguin Waimanu on a beach. So far,
only remains |
of this very primitive penguin were known from the fossil site in New Zealand
[Credit: Chris Gaskin and Geology Museum University of Otago]
The fossil sites along the Waipara River in New Zealand's Canterbury region are well 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," explains Dr. Gerald Mayr of the Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt.
foot bones of the new giant penguin (left), compared to those of an
Emperor Penguin, |
the largest living penguin species (right) [Credit: Senckenberg]
According to the researchers, the newly described penguin lived about 61 million years ago and reached a body length of approx. 150 centimeters -- making 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.
|The Waipara giant penguin compared to an Emperor Penguin (the largest extant penguin species)|
and a human [Credit: Senckenberg]
"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."
Source: Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum [February 23, 2017]