Scientists in New Zealand have uncovered what they believe are the fossilized remains of a giant penguin nearly the size of an adult human.
The discovery, published this week in Alcheringa: An Australasian Journal of Palaeontology, shows the penguin stood about 1.6-metres tall and weighed 80 kilograms, significantly larger than the modern Emperor penguin.
“Most people wouldn’t recognize the animal we described as being a penguin,” Paul Scofield, a senior curator at the Canterbury Museum, told CTV News Channel from Christchurch, N.Z.
“It had a very, very long bill like a heron or a cormorant and it also had a long tail. It couldn’t fly, but it wasn’t far from its flying ancestors and it probably had a small bent wing, rather than a flipper.”
The researchers say the "crossvallia waiparensis,” as it’s been named, roamed the South Island of New Zealand between 56 and 66 million years ago.
An amateur fossil hunter found the leg bones of the penguin about a year ago, but it is just now being confirmed as a new species. This is the second giant penguin fossil to be found in New Zealand.
“It takes quite a while when you’ve got an unknown animal right in front of you to actually work out what it is,” Scofield said.
This discovery comes just a week after researchers discovered the fossil of a giant parrot in New Zealand. The “Heracles inexpectatus” grew to about twice the size of the New Zealand kakapo, the largest parrot species currently on Earth.
The island of New Zealand was also once the home of a giant flightless bird known as the moa and a giant eagle with a three-metre wingspan.
“It’s part of an ongoing realization about how bizarre prehistory New Zealand actually was,” Schofield said. “We now know that there was a whole suite of these giant animals living in New Zealand.”
The researchers believe there are two explanations for why these giant birds are no longer around and the first has to do with how New Zealand had a more tropical climate millions of years ago, but has since cooled down.
“These large animals probably couldn’t have survived in such a cool climate and it’s also quite probable that the rise of the sea mammals -- whales and dolphins -- out-competed the giant avian predators,” Scofield said.
With files from AFP
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