Newfound Fossils Reveal Giant Penguins Evolved During The Dinosaur Age

First Posted: Mar 01, 2017 03:20 AM EST

Researchers have unearthed an ancient penguin fossils of leg bones along the Waipara River in New Zealand's Canterbury region. The penguin leg bones were about 61 million years old and 4.9 feet in size. The fossils belonged to a bird the same age as the oldest known penguin to date, which is the Waimanu manneringi.

The findings of the discovery were published online in the journal The Science of Nature on Feb. 23, 2017. The discovery was led by Gerald Mayr, an ornithologist at the Senckenberg Research Institute and natural History Museum Frankfurt in Germany, and other colleagues, according to CBS News.

Mayr told Live Science that ancient penguin bones are among the oldest fossils of modern birds known from anywhere in the world. He further said that examining penguin fossils can help address ongoing debates on when exactly modern birds appeared.

The findings showed that giant penguins might be roaming around during the dinosaur age. Mayr said that the "penguins reached a giant size very early in their evolution. They might be likely driven extinct by the appearance of marine mammals like the seals and toothed whales. The team also discovered that this new penguin likely had the upright, waddling gait typical of modern penguins, unlike the Waimanu manneringi.

The researchers explained that for ancient penguins to evolve the level of diversity now seen in their body plans, the ancestors of all penguins would have originated millions of years beforehand, likely during the dinosaur age. This disagrees with other previous suggestions that penguins differed from other birds only 62 million years ago.

The new penguin is not named yet. The researchers need more material before they can name this species.

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