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A 3D model of a fossil of the Crossvallia waiparensis penguin
Image: Canterbury Museum

Human-sized penguin fossils found in New Zealand

August 14, 2019

Fossils in New Zealand have led to the discovery of a new species of giant penguin that could grow up to 1.6 meters tall. The penguin's closest relative is another giant penguin that was found in Antarctica.


Scientists on Wednesday said the fossilized remains of a giant human-sized penguin have been found on New Zealand's South Island.

The huge seabird was up to 1.6 meters (63 inches) tall and weighed up to 80 kilograms, some four times heavier and 40 centimeters taller than the modern-day Emperor penguin, researchers said.

After the remains were discovered by an amateur paleontologist in 2018, a team from the Canterbury Museum and the Senckenberg Natural History Museum in Frankfurt, Germany, analyzed the bones and found they belonged to the previously unknown penguin species Crossvallia waiparensis.

The penguin hunted off New Zealand's coast in the Paleocene era, 66-56 million years ago.

The research identifying the new species was published this week in Alcheringa: An Australasian Journal of Palaeontology.

The closest known relative of the new species is the Crossvallia unienwillia, which lived around the same time and was identified from a fossilized partial skeleton found in the Cross Valley in Antarctica in 2000.

Read more: Should penguins be an animal attraction?

'Antarctica was covered in forest'

Canterbury Museum curator Paul Scofield said finding closely related birds in New Zealand and Antarctica showed the country's close connection to the icy continent.

"When the Crossvallia species were alive, New Zealand and Antarctica were very different from today — Antarctica was covered in forest and both had much warmer climates," Scofield said.

A researcher at the museum, Vanesa De Pietri, said it was the second giant penguin from the Paleocene era found in the area.

"It further reinforces our theory that penguins attained great size early in their evolution," she said.

Read more: Why is the Arctic melting faster than the Antarctic?

Scientists have raised the possibility that the mega-penguins died out due to the emergence of other large marine predators such as seals and toothed whales.

New Zealand is known for having once been home to other large extinct birds, including the flightless moa, which was up to 3.6 meters tall, and Haast's eagle, which had a wingspan of 3 meters.

Last week, the Canterbury Museum announced the discovery of a prodigious parrot that was 1 meter tall and lived about 19 million years ago.

law/stb (AFP, dpa)

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