‘Monster bird’: Remains of man-sized penguin discovered in New Zealand
The bones were discovered on a beach in the South Island’s Otago region and now a new study has revealed that they belonged to one of the largest penguins that ever lived.
Based on an analysis of the fossils, researchers have determined that in its lifetime the penguin reached a height of nearly nearly 6 feet tall (1.7 meters) and weighed around 220 pounds (100 kilograms). The Emperor Penguin, which is the largest penguin that exists today at up to four feet and 99 pounds, would have been dwarfed by the giant bird.
The researchers dubbed the bird Kumimanu biceae in a tip of a hat to the indigenous Maori tribe of New Zealand. “Kumi manu” means “monster bird” in Maori, leaving no doubt about the size of the new discovery.
The bones have been dated to the late Paleocene epoch, sometime between 59 and 56 million years ago. Kumimanu’s great size makes it one of the largest penguins that ever existed, surpassed only by an ancient species found in Antarctica.
In a study published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications, the New Zealand and German research team show that the birds probably evolved to be that big because they couldn’t fly.
“The fossils are among the earliest known finds of penguins and it is noteworthy that these earliest forms were enormously large,” one of the researchers, Dr Gerald Mayr, from the Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt, explained in a statement.
“Kumimanu shows that gigantism was not uncommon in early penguins, and was already in the earliest evolutionary stages of these birds.”
The researchers also offered a thesis as to why there are no giant penguins left roaming the Earth today.
They suggest that the giant penguins developed soon after the mass extinction about 66 million years ago which wiped out around 75 percent of plants and animals on Earth including, famously, the dinosaurs.
The disappearance of large marine reptiles allowed the penguins to conquer new ecological niches. When large marine predators, such as seals and toothed whales, reemerged later, the penguins themselves fell victim to extinction.