Penguin of the size of full grown man baffles experts —

Penguin of the size of man baffles experts (The Sun)

Penguin of the size of man baffles experts (The Sun)

An enormously huge penguin that lived up to 60 million years ago has amazed scientists. 5ft 8ins tall and weighing 16 stone (101kg), it was the same height as an average human male – and much heavier than his 13st 3lb.

Fossils of this giant penguin were discovered recently at Hampden Beach in Otago, New Zealand. According to the Lead author Dr Gerald Mayr, of the Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt it was almost twice as tall and more than triple the weight of the Emperor – the largest modern penguin which can grow to 3ft 3ins and tip the scales at 66lbs.

Its large size would have allowed it to swim further and dive deeper than today’s penguins, but it would still waddled about when it was on the land. Named Kumimanu biceae, it lived during the late Palaeocene. Its partial skeleton included a thigh-bone – or femur – measuring more than 6 inches in length.

From this the team could estimate its size – which puts it among the largest penguins found. Only two other species of giant penguins are known from around this time.

Gigantism – a phenomenon in which the size of an ancient species exceeded that of the largest living ones – is a known feature of penguin evolution. Giant penguins are well documented from between 50 and 20 million years ago – but older ones are rare.

Scientists speculate they might have become extinct following the emergence of larger predators like, whales, seals, dolphins and porpoises.

Dr Mayr said: “One of the notable features of penguin evolution is the occurrence of very large species in the early Cenozoic whose body size greatly exceeded that of the largest living penguins.”

The Cenozoic is from 66 million years ago – when the dinosaurs were wiped out by an asteroid – to the present day.

Dr Mayr said: “Here we describe a new giant species from the late Paleocene of New Zealand that documents the very early evolution of large body size in penguins.

Kumimanu biceae is larger than all other fossil penguins that have substantial skeletal portions preserved.”

The study published in Nature Communications suggests giant penguins evolved independently and early in their existence – soon after the bird’s evolutionary transition from flight to diving.

Dr Mayr said: “That a penguin rivaling the largest previously known species existed in the Paleocene suggests gigantism in penguins arose shortly after these birds became flightless divers.”

The biggest ever discovered is known as Palaeeudyptes klekowskii – dubbed the ‘colossus penguin’.

It was up to 6.63ft (2.02m) in length and lived much later – 37 to 40 million years ago on Antarctica.

As well as the thigh-bone there were parts of three wing-bones, the shoulder-blade, the breast-bone and a leg-bone.

There was also part of the pelvis along with three vertebrae and other bone fragments.

It was unearthed from a rock formation 186 miles south west of the Waipara River in New Zealand.

The extinction of the dinosaurs and larger marine predators and dinosaurs could have been the ecological driver for the loss of flight capabilities in the earliest penguins.

But the rise of marine mammals appears to have wiped out giant penguins, he added. (The Sun)

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