Human- Sized Penguins Once Roamed New Zealand

Scientists have discovered bones that they believe once belonged to a penguin that stood as tall as a human.

A giant penguin has been found in Hampden Beach in Otago in the country’s South Island. The fossils, researchers believe, came from a 100-kilogram giant, ancient penguin.  The newly discovered species, known as Kumimanu Biceae, named after a creature from Maori folklore and the Maori word for bird, is the second oldest penguin fossil ever discovered.

The fossils were found buried in 55 million-year-old sedimentary rock. No skull was recovered. It is believed  from previous fossils found, the ancient penguin had a much longer beak than its modern relatives and would have used it to spear fish.

Kumimanu were already a developed penguin species. They had flippers, and would have sat upright like modern-day penguins, however, they were not the familiar white and black they are today, rather their feathers were brown.

It is generally thought that penguins originally descended from cormorants and later evolved and spread. The asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs and sea reptiles made way for sea diving birds like cormorants and penguins.

During the time both the Antarctic and New Zealand were subtropical, so sharks, turtles and other seabirds would have shared the same environment.

Giant penguin species such as the Kumimanu became extinct about 20 million years ago soon after large marine mammals entered their ecosystem. It is not known why the species became extinct but the introduction of these large toothed marine animals such as seals or whales either meant competition for food in the area or these marine animals saw the giant penguin as prey.

Lead image: Paul Nicklen, National Geographic

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