Human-sizeed ancient penguin fossils found in New Zealand

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Fossils from New Zealand have revealed a giant penguin that was as big as a grown man, roughly the size of the captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins. And it was a giant as far as penguins go. It has been estimated that the bird probably weighed about 220 pounds and was around 5 feet 10 inches tall.

"We examined the wing and leg bones of this penguin and quickly realized that we had a previously unknown species", he said.

The biggest penguin today, the emperor in Antarctica, stands less than 4 feet (1.2 meters) tall.

Giant penguins are well documented from between 50 and 20 million years ago - but older ones are rare and only two other spieces are known from around this time. He has studied New Zealand fossil penguins but didn't participate in the new study.

Kumimanu means "monster bird" in Māori. Then there wasIcadyptes salasi, which was nearly 5 feet tall and lived in what is now Peru about 36 million years ago.

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Professor R. Ewan Fordyce of the University of Otago geology department in New Zealand, an expert on ancient penguins, said the discovery is "really significant and shows an interesting history about the penguin".

He found a rock that showed bone on the outside surface, so he took it back to his office - where it would remain on a shelf for a few years. It was huge in size compared to current date penguins. The penguins grew larger and larger and they did so rapidly, judging from the discovery of Kumimanu.

"Giant penguins were occupying the seas about 20 million years before whales entered the oceans", she says. Their disappearance coincides with the rise of marine mammals such as seals or sea lions, who probably competed for food, earlier research suggests.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/. It's an ancient species that swam off the coast of New Zealand between 55 and 60 million years ago.

The researchers also offered a thesis as to why there are no giant penguins left roaming the Earth today.

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It's hard to know how similar K. biceae looked to modern day penguins, the tallest of which is the emperor penguin that stands at 1.1 metres. Studies that pair these penguins closely with these other types of bird suggest that ancient ancestors of penguins may very well have flown over the water as well.

MORGAN FREEMAN: The emperor penguin will march to a place so extreme it supports no other life. The fossil, named Kumimanu biceae, is about a foot and a half taller.

It's one of the biggest penguins that ever existed, coming in at just under the size of extinct Late Eocene Antarctic penguin Palaeeudyptes klekowskii, which was 2 metres long and weighed 115 kilograms.

Scientific reference: Gerald Mayr et al.

JULIA CLARKE: I mean, what's not cool about a human-sized penguin? The benefits of this find to the study of the modern penguin's evolution are innumerable, and may help us discover more about the process that turned a collection of flying birds into grounded swimmers. When large marine predators, such as seals and toothed whales, reemerged later, the penguins themselves fell victim to extinction.

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