Scientists Found Ancient Penguin as Big as Human

16 December, 2017

Newly discovered fossils in New Zealand have revealed a giant penguin that was as big as an adult man.

The creature was almost the same size and weight as professional Canadian hockey player Sidney Crosby, who plays for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Scientists estimate it was a little shorter than Crosby, at 178 centimeters (Crosby is 180 centimeters), and nine kilograms heavier.

If the hockey player and the real penguin had met on the ice, however, things would have looked a bit different. When standing up, the ancient bird only stood about 160 centimeters.

The largest discovered ancient penguin

The new discovery is larger than any other ancient penguin that scientists have found, says Gerald Mayr. He is with the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum in Frankfurt, Germany.

A possibly larger penguin is only known to scientists from a small piece of leg bone. That makes estimating its size difficult.

The largest living penguin species is the emperor penguin in Antarctica. It stands about 120 centimeters tall.

Artistic reconstruction of Kumimanu biceae in size comparison to a human diver. <I>&#</I>169; Senckenberg
Artistic reconstruction of Kumimanu biceae in size comparison to a human diver. &#169; Senckenberg

Mayr and others described the giant bird in a paper released this week. It was published in the journal Nature Communications. The researchers named the penguin Kumimanu biceae. The name is a combination of Maori-language words for a mythological monster and a bird, and the name of one of the author's mother.

The fossils are between 56 million to 60 million years old. That is almost as old as the earliest-known penguin fossils, says Daniel Ksepka. He works at the Bruce Museum of Greenwich, Connecticut. Ksepka has studied New Zealand fossil penguins but was not a part of the new study.

Ksepka told the Associated Press that the new discovery shows that penguins grew very large, very quickly. They grew just after a mass extinction 66 million years ago – the extinction that is best known for killing off dinosaurs, he said.

The event played a role in penguin history, as well. Before that, a non-flying seabird like the penguin would have been threatened by larger animals living in or near the water, as they competed for the same food. But after the extinction killed most of the larger animals, the ability to fly became less important.

This helped penguins survive and grow.

The question that remains, however, is what happened to the giant birds?

Mayr said researchers believe they died out when large marine mammals, such as toothed whales and seals, showed up and started competing with the penguins for food and safe breeding places.

These newer animals may also have hunted the giant penguins.

I'm Phil Dierking.

Malcolm Ritter originally wrote this story for the Associated Press. Phil Dierking adapted this story for VOA Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

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Words in This Story

dinosaur - n. one of many reptiles that lived on Earth millions of years ago

evolve - v. to change or develop slowly often into a better, more complex, or more advanced state

extinction - n. the state or situation that results when something (such as a plant or animal species) has died out completely

fossil - n. something (such as a leaf, skeleton, or footprint) that is from a plant or animal which lived in ancient times and that you can see in some rocks

marine mammal - n. Marine mammals are aquatic mammals that rely on the ocean and other marine ecosystems for their existence.

mythological - adj. the myths of a particular group or culture