Fossil bones from the most important penguin that ever lived unearthed in New Zealand


Fossil bones from two newly described penguin species, considered one of them regarded as the most important penguin to ever reside — weighing greater than 150 kilograms (330 kilos), greater than thrice the dimensions of the most important residing penguins — have been unearthed in New Zealand.

A world group, together with researchers from the College of Cambridge, reported the invention within the Journal of Paleontology. The paper’s senior creator, Alan Tennyson from the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, found the fossils in 57-million-year-old seashore boulders in North Otago, on New Zealand’s South Island, between 2016 and 2017.

The fossils had been then uncovered from inside the boulders by Al Manning. They’ve been recognized as being between 59.5 and 55.5 million years previous, marking their existence as roughly 5 to 10 million years after the end-Cretaceous extinction which led to the extinction of non-avian dinosaurs.

The group used laser scanners to create digital fashions of the bones and evaluate them to different fossil species, flying diving birds like auks, and trendy penguins. To estimate the dimensions of the brand new species, the group measured tons of of contemporary penguin bones and calculated a regression utilizing flipper bone dimensions to foretell weight.

They concluded that the most important flipper bones belong to a penguin that tipped the scales at an astounding 154 kg (340 lbs.). Compared, Emperor Penguins, the tallest and heaviest of all residing penguins, sometimes weigh between 22 and 45 kg (48.5-99 lbs.).

Would have weighed greater than Shaq

“Fossils present us with proof of the historical past of life, and generally that proof is actually stunning,” mentioned co-author Daniel Area from Cambridge’s Division of Earth Sciences. “Many early fossil penguins attained huge sizes, simply dwarfing the most important penguins alive at the moment. Our new species, Kumimanu fordycei, is the most important fossil penguin ever found — at roughly 350 kilos, it could have weighed greater than [basketball player] Shaquille O’Neal on the peak of his dominance!”

Skeletal illustrations of Kumimanu fordycei, Petradyptes stonehousei, and a contemporary Emperor Penguin displaying the sizes of the brand new fossil species. Credit score: Simone Giovanardi

The group named the brand new species Kumimanu fordycei in honor of Dr. R. Ewan Fordyce, Professor Emeritus on the College of Otago. “Ewan Fordyce is a legend in our area, but additionally one of the vital beneficiant mentors I’ve ever recognized,” mentioned first creator Daniel Ksepka from the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Connecticut. “With out Ewan’s area program, we wouldn’t even know that many iconic fossil species existed, so it is just proper he have his personal penguin namesake.”

A number of specimens of a second penguin species had been additionally discovered, offering an in depth view of the skeleton. Dubbed Petradyptes stonehousei, it weighed in at 50kg (110 lbs.), smaller than Kumimanu fordycei however nonetheless properly above the load of an Emperor Penguin. The identify combines the Greek “petra” for rock and “dyptes” for diver, a play on the diving hen being preserved in a boulder. “Stonehousei” honors the late Dr. Bernard Stonehouse (1926–2014), the primary particular person to look at the total breeding cycle of the Emperor Penguin, a significant milestone in penguin biology.

Titanic early penguins

These two newly described species present that penguins acquired very massive early of their evolutionary historical past, hundreds of thousands of years earlier than they fine-tuned their flipper equipment. The group noticed that the 2 species retained primitive options equivalent to extra slender flipper bones and muscle attachment factors that resemble these of flying birds.

When requested why early penguins grew to titanic proportions, Ksepka speculated it made them extra environment friendly within the water. “Dimension conveys many benefits,” he mentioned. “An even bigger penguin may seize bigger prey, and extra importantly it could have been higher at conserving physique temperature in chilly waters. It’s potential breaking the 100-pound dimension barrier allowed the earliest penguins to unfold from New Zealand to different elements of the world.”

“After we begin pondering of those finds not as remoted bones however as elements of an entire residing animal, then an image begins to kind,” mentioned co-author Daniel Thomas from Massey College in Auckland. “Giant, warm-blooded marine animals residing at the moment can dive to nice depths. This raises questions on whether or not Kumimanu fordycei had an ecology that penguins at the moment don’t have, by having the ability to attain deeper waters and discover meals that isn’t accessible to residing penguins.”

Kumimanu fordycei would have been an completely astonishing sight on the seashores of New Zealand 57 million years in the past, and the mix of its sheer dimension and the unfinished nature of its fossil stays makes it one of the vital intriguing fossil birds ever discovered,” mentioned Area, who can also be the Curator of Ornithology at Cambridge’s Museum of Zoology. “Hopefully future fossil discoveries will shed extra mild on the biology of this wonderful early penguin.”

Extra data: Daniel T. Ksepka et al, Largest-known fossil penguin supplies perception into the early evolution of sphenisciform physique dimension and flipper anatomy, Journal of Paleontology (2023). Learn the summary.

Because of the College of Cambridge for offering this information.

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