The discovery of the fossil of a penguin shows the species was around during the age of the dinosaurs, according to a team of scientists from Germany and New Zealand.
The discovery of a penguin fossil shows that the birds was around during the age of the dinosaurs, according to a team of scientists from Germany and New Zealand.
The fossil, with a body length of around 150cm, is from the Paleocene era making it approximately 61 million years old. As the bones differ significantly from other penguin fossil finds of the same age, the researchers believe this proves a higher diversity of Paleocene penguins.
Dr Gerald Mayr, from the Senckenberg Society for Natural Research, who led the study, said: “The discovery shows that penguin diversity in the early Paleocene was clearly higher than we previously assumed. In turn, this diversity indicates that the first representatives of penguins already arose during the age of dinosaurs, more than 65 million years ago.”
The researchers investigated fossil sites along the Waipara River in the Canterbury region in New Zealand. This area is well known for avian fossils that were embedded in marine sand, four million years after the extinction of dinosaurs. Discoveries made here include Waimanu, the oldest known penguin. The fossil discovered by Dr Mayr and his team has yet to be named.
Dr Mayr said: “What sets this fossil apart are the obvious differences compared to the previously known penguin remains from this period of geological history. The leg bones we examined show that during its lifetime, the newly described penguin was significantly larger than its already described relatives. Moreover, it belongs to a species that is more closely related to penguins from later time periods.”
The fossil is almost as big as Anthropornis nordenskjoeldi, the largest known fossil penguin which lived in Antarctica 45 to 33 million years ago. The researchers believe this proves penguins reached a large size early on in their evolutionary history. The penguin is thought to have walked with the same upright, waddling gait as modern day penguins.