Ancient man-sized penguin found in New Zealand beach

Ancient man-sized penguin found in New Zealand beach

A fossilised partial skeleton of K. biceae was uncovered in 2004 at Hampden Beach in the southeast of New Zealand's South Island by researchers Alan Tennyson and Paul Scofield.

On land the bird stood about 5-foot-7 (1.7 meters), but in the water it stretched out to 5-foot-10. The bird's arrival, the second ever recorded according to New Zealand's Department of Conservation, has caught the public's attention as Emperor Penguins usually live in Antarctica, more than 3,000 Km (1,864 miles) away. Penguins are among the oldest groups of modern birds, and over their tens of millions of years of evolution, we now know there have been plenty of giant forms that have come and gone.

The researchers named the new penguin species Kumimanu biceae - the genus includes the Maori words for "large mythological monster" and "bird". They found that Kumimanu had many bone features in the wings and shoulders that were between those of the later giants, and those of the only penguins older than Kumimanu (such as Waimanu).

Writing in the this week's edition of the scientific journal Nature Communications the paleontologists, including Gerald Mayr of Germany, said that the bird lived during the late Paleocene period - between 55 and 60 million years ago. However, a new fossil discovery in New Zealand has revealed an ancestral penguin species that was considerably more intimidating than today's agreeable Antarctic chaps. This means it is also one of the largest penguin species found to date, as well as one of the oldest. It also belongs to a totally different branch of the penguin family tree than basically every other giant penguin.

Some of Kumimanu's bones are bigger than their counterparts in any other penguin.

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

The scientists added that understanding the role of size in penguins might be better answered by looking at why they are so much smaller today.

When exactly ancient penguins diverged to swim rather than fly is unclear, although studies suggest that the divergence happened around the mass extinction event roughly 66 million years ago.

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'.

Talk about your big bird. According to the study, the penguins could have been filling "ecological niches left vacant after the extinction of large predatory marine reptiles".

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