Saturday, 24 August, 2019

'Monster penguins' as big as a human once roamed New Zealand

Dr. Paul Scofield senior curator natural history at Canterbury Museum holds the fossil a tibiotarsus top next to a similar bone of an Emperor Penguin in Christchurch New Zealand Wednesday Aug. 14 2019 New Zealand has discovered the remains of a 'monster penguin' that was basically the size of a human
Patty Aguilar | 16 August, 2019, 16:18

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.

"The oceans were ripe for the picking with the lack of mega predators", Scofield said, according to the Associated Press.

That's compared to the largest penguin species of today - the Emperor Penguin - which stand at around 1.2 metres.

He said that following the extinction of dinosaurs, marine reptiles and big fish, it seemed there was an evolutionary opportunity for penguins to thrive and grow in size.

Love found the leg bones of a single individual-as well as some possible wing bones-which Mayr and his team used to identify the penguin as a new species.

Analysis of the C. waiparensis fossils showed that its closest known relative was another Paleocene giant penguin species known as Crossvallia unienwillia which was first discovered in Antarctica, underlining the ancient connection between the icy continent and New Zealand. The modern bird stands between 3 and 3.9 feet (0.9 and 1.2 m) tall.

The leg bones of both Crossvallia penguins suggest their feet played a greater role in swimming than those of modern penguins, or that they hadn't yet adapted to standing upright like modern penguins.

New Zealand is well-known for having hosted large birds in the past-including giant eagles, giant penguins and the flightless moa.

This shrinkage is thought to be related to the rise of sea mammals - seals, whales and others, competing for the same food resources and breeding grounds - which started to occur around the same time penguins started getting smaller.

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The findings were published this week in Alcheringa: An Australasian Journal Of Palaeontology.

The ancient avian came to light thanks to an amateur palaeontologist named Leigh Love, who found the bird's leg bones previous year at the Waipara Greensand fossil site in North Canterbury.

"It wasn't until I got the fossils home and did a little preparation that I realized I had something completely different than what had been found before", he said.

The fossils will be displayed at the museum later this year.

"This site is pretty much unique", Mr Scofield said.

It's no wonder, either, as being big has huge advantages for marine birds, said Daniel Ksepka, a curator at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Connecticut, who was not involved in the research.

Along with last week's enormous parrot, this mighty penguin is yet another reminder that prehistoric New Zealand was a fantasy land with some delightfully unusual creatures. He said one challenge was trying to determine the overall size of the birds from skeleton fragments, but added that it was a challenge everybody in the field faced.

The discovery of the new penguin species is the fifth ancient penguin species uncovered at the Waipara Greensand site.

Dr Paul Scofield, co-author and a senior curator at the Canterbury Museum, said the discovery is significant because the species is similar to another giant penguin found in Antarctica and helps connect the two regions.

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