Today’s penguins are relatively small in stature — but between 55 and 60 million years ago, penguins as big as people waddled across the planet.
The fossils of a giant prehistoric penguin were discovered on what is now Hampden Beach in Otago on the South Island of New Zealand. The skeleton includes pieces of the wing, spine, breast, and leg bones. Although discovered over a decade ago, researchers have just recently been able to effectively interpret the remains. The team determined that the penguin weighed around 220 pounds and reached nearly six feet in height.
Emperor penguins are the biggest living penguins today, reaching about four feet tall — and would have been dwarfed by this prehistoric giant. But this isn’t even the largest penguin ever discovered. Giant penguins were actually quite common a few million years after the extinction of the dinosaurs and before whales and other marine predators inhabited the oceans.
Newly discovered fossils in New Zealand have revealed a giant penguin that was as big as an adult man. https://t.co/4kdJLkfdpy
— VOA Learning English (@VOALearnEnglish) December 18, 2017
This new species has been named Kumimanu biceae, translating to “monster bird” in the Maori language. Although today’s birds are recognized by their trademark black and white coloring, this prehistoric giant was likely brownish in color boasting a long snout and slender body type.
Penguins were relatively large when they first transitioned from flying to diving, during the earliest stages of their evolution. They went extinct about 20 million years ago when other marine predators came onto the scene and began competing for food. Other ancient giant penguins include Anthropornis nordenskjoeldi and Icadyptes salasi.
“This particular specimen is one of the largest known fossil penguins,” stated paleontologist Gerald Mayr to NPR.
The most recent discovery is documented in the journal Nature Communications.