A team of researchers made a remarkable fossil discovery in New Zealand. The skeleton was 1.77 meters tall, which was impressive, given the fact that it belonged to an animal. Judging from the appearance of the fossils, they determined it must have belonged to an extinct species of penguin.
The extinct species of penguin reached impressive heights
As soon as the researchers unearthed the fossils, they realized they were just looking at a new species, which stood undiscovered until now. They gave it the name Kumimanu biceae, and established it was an extinct species of penguin. After dating the skeleton, they discovered it was 60 million years old, making it the oldest known penguin species.
This is a great discovery, as it offers a new perspective into the evolution of these creatures, promising to reveal new details about the species. However, this extinct species of penguin is not as unique as some might think. The unearthed skeleton might have been as tall as a man, but gigantism was quite a common trait among the birds.
During previous expeditions, researchers managed to discover other giant penguins which were even more impressive in size. They measured up to 2 meters in height, and were found on the territory of New Zealand and Australia, and in the icy land of Antarctica.
Penguins grew so big to occupy the empty slot in the marine food chain
Given the age of the extinct species of penguin, researchers established this must have been among the first to evolve. However, its traits were quite different from the ones of newer species. Also, these newer species also reached to impressive sizes, so they assumed penguins might have underwent multiple evolution paths.
What they could tell for sure from these fossils was the fact that penguins started growing so large shortly after they stopped flying and became marine animals. This moment coincided with the extinction of dinosaurs, when fierce marine predators also disappeared. Thus, penguins could evolve into a replacement for these predators.
Also, as soon as a whole new phase of marine predators started evolving, penguins grew smaller. Their place in the marine food chains was taken by seals and whales, which made it harder for them to survive in the old conditions. However, researchers still don’t know why penguins continued shrinking even later.