Scientists have discovered in New Zealand fossils of a prehistoric penguin that was about as big as a man.
The new species, which will help researchers better understand the early stages of the evolution of penguins, has been named Kumimanu biceae. Kumimanu means "monster bird" in Maori, and there is probably no better way to describe the ancient animal.
Kumimanu Biceae: The Ancient Giant Penguin
Penguins are portrayed as adorable creatures in modern media, but "cute" is definitely not a word to describe the newly discovered ancient species.
In a report published in the Nature journal, scientists said that the Kumimanu biceae is bigger than all the other penguin fossils ever discovered. The ancient penguins, which swam off New Zealand's east coast 55 million to 60 million years ago, were estimated to be 5 feet 10 inches tall with weight of 220 pounds. The biggest living penguin, the Emperor penguin, only stands up to 4 feet and weighs about 51 pounds.
"That's about as tall as a medium-sized man," said paleontologist Gerald Mayr from the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum in Frankfurt, Germany, and the lead author of the study on Kumimanu biceae.
The fossils of the giant penguin were found in a boulder in Otago, which is located in southern New Zealand. Extraction work revealed that the rock contained several jumbled bones within, which turned out to be the remains of Kumimanu biceae.
Penguins Started Off As Big Animals
Giant penguins were common millions of years ago, though the fossil evidence that such creatures existed were smaller and younger than the new discovery.
The Anthropornis nordenskjoeldi, which are similar in size to the Kumimanu biceae, lived in Antarctica about 33 million to 45 million years ago. Meanwhile, the Icadyptes salasi, which stood almost 5 feet tall, used to live in Peru around 36 million years ago.
The discovery of Kumimanu biceae supports the theory that penguins started off in their evolution as big creatures, a few million years after the dinosaurs became extinct. The ancient penguins were able to grow to huge sizes because whales did not appear until 20 million years later.
Scientists believe that the arrival of the large marine mammals such as whales, seals, and walruses, led to the extinction of giant penguins, as they competed with the penguins over food sources and even preyed on them for some species. The giant penguins died off, but the species continued the evolution into their smaller, more nimble forms that we see today.