- Remains discovered at the Waipara Greensand fossil site in North Canterbury, New Zealand, in 2018 have been found to be of one of the largest species of penguins.
- The “monster penguin” was found to measure around 1.6 metres tall and weigh up to 80kg.
- This is the fifth ancient penguin species discovered at the Waipara site.
Remains discovered at the Waipara Greensand fossil site in North Canterbury, New Zealand, in 2018 have been found to be of one of the largest species of penguins — believed to be the size of a human — following analysis by researchers at New Zealand’s Canterbury Museum and the Natural History Museum in Frankfurt, Germany.
Scientifically named Crossvallia waiparensis, the “monster penguin” is one of the world’s oldest and largest penguin species, measuring around 1.6 metres tall and weighing up to 80kg.
That’s compared to the largest penguin species of today – the Emperor Penguin – which stand at around 1.2 metres.
The penguin was found to have lived between 66 and 56 million years ago during the Paleocene Epoch, a period when dinosaurs and other prehistoric reptilian groups no longer existed.
Canterbury Museum curator Dr Paul Scofield told Business Insider Australia the penguin’s large size was due to the “favourable” climate when they existed. It was also due to the effects of the Cretaceous–Paleogene global extinction event that wiped out nearly all the dinosaurs and marine animals, and there was nothing to compete with or eat the penguins.
“The arrival of the large predator sea mammals at the end of the Oligocene [period] (25 million years ago) seems to have been the cause of the giant penguins demise,” he said.
The remains were discovered at the Waipara Greensand fossil site in North Canterbury in 2018. They were then analysed by a team including Dr Scofield, fellow Canterbury Museum curator Dr Vanesa De Pietri, and Dr Gerald Mayr from the Senckenberg Natural History Museum in Germany.
Scofield explained that the remains were identified as having come from a penguin because “the shin bone is almost identical in form to the Emperor penguin but 1/3 larger than the largest Emperor and much heavier”.
The “monster penguin” is the fifth ancient penguin species discovered at the Waipara site.
“The Waipara Greensand is one of the few sites worldwide of the right age with the right underwater characteristics and chemical properties to preserve these bones,” Schofield said.
It joins a list of other giant, yet extinct, New Zealand animals including eagles, parrots, burrowing bats and the 3.6 metre flightless moa bird.
The penguin is also a relative of the fellow Paleocene penguin species Crossvallia unienwillia, whose remains where found in Antarctica in 2000.
Scofield said finding related birds in New Zealand and Antarctica showed a close connection between both regions.
“When the Crossvallia species were alive, New Zealand and Antarctica were very different from today – Antarctica was covered in forest and both had much warmer climates,” he said in a statement.
The leg bones of both these penguin species suggest their feet played a bigger role in swimming than those of modern penguins, or that they hadn’t yet adapted to standing upright like modern penguins, according to the Canterbury Museam.
So perhaps they were the much larger versions of the penguins in Happy Feet. If they could stand.
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