Ancient Paleocene penguins were as tall as humans, according to a new study. As per the research, fossilized remains of ancient penguins were found encased in rocks on a beach in New Zealand. At first, scientists thought that the bones were of a tortoise. But when they removed the rock completely after painstaking extraction work, they found out that the fossil was actually of a huge penguin, almost the size of a human and one and half times the size of the emperor penguin, the largest living penguin species today.
After analyzing the bone fossil, scientists revealed that length of the prehistoric penguin, named Kunimanu biceae, was about 5.9 feet and it roamed the waters off New Zealand soon after dinosaurs got wiped out. The 223 pound, human-sized K.biceae is one of the oldest penguin species found yet, and the scientists were amazed by its unexpectedly huge size. “I was amazed at how big it actually was. It’s one of the tallest penguins that has ever been found,” said lead author Gerald Mayr, an ornithologist at Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum Frankfurt in Germany. The research also revealed that the K.biceae was almost 55 to 60 million years old. This indicated that these are one of the earliest penguin ancestors ever found and were living during the Paleocene Period, just after the mass extinction, which occurred 66 million years ago.
Co-author Alan Tennyson said, “We have named the new species Kumimanu biceae. Kumimanu means “monster bird” in Māori, and biceae honours my mother, Bice Tennyson, who fostered my interest in natural history.” He informed that the boulder in Otago, in southern New Zealand had a multitude of jumbled bones of the K.biceae and the bone elements showed that its proportions were consistently large throughout its body. Apart from its huge size, what surprised scientists was its extremely old age.
Previously also, many isolated fragments of fossil penguins were found which revealed that ancient penguins were very big in size. But this latest K. biceae fossil revealed that they were almost 10 million years older than previously found fossils of large penguins. The study revealed that the ancient penguins grew bigger very quickly as compared to their later large counterparts. Hence, the latest study will definitely help scientists get more information about the early evolution of penguins and also they could get some unique primitive features of ancient penguin.