Fossils show giant penguin as big as a grown man

This illustration, provided by Gerald Mayr shows you the sizes of an ancient giant penguin Kumimanu biceae and a man.

(AP/Senckenberg Research Institute)

Fossils from New Zealand have turned out to be a giant penguin that was as tall as a grown man, about the size of the captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The creation is slightly shorter in length and about 20 pounds heavier than the official statistics for hockey star Sidney Crosby. It measured almost 5 metres, 10 cm long when swimming, and weighed 223 pounds.

The penguin and the Penguin faced off on the ice, but things look different. When standing, the old bird was maybe only 5-foot-3.

The new-found bird is about 7 inches longer than all the other old penguin that has left a substantial portion of a skeleton, said Gerald Mayr of the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum in Frankfurt, Germany. A potentially bigger rival is known only from a fragment of bone, which a size estimate is difficult.

The largest penguin today, the emperor in Antarctica, is less than 4 metres high.

Mayr and others describe the giant creature in a paper released Tuesday by the journal Nature Communications. They called it Kumimanu biceae, which refers to the Maori words for a great mythological monster and a bird, and the mother of one of the authors of the study. The fossils are 56 million to 60 million years old.

That is almost as old as the earliest known penguin fossils, which were much smaller, said Daniel Ksepka, curator of the Bruce Museum of Greenwich, Connecticut. He studied New Zealand fossil penguins, but did not take part in the new study.

The new discovery shows penguins “got big very quickly” after the mass extinction of 66 million years ago, which is best known for killing the dinosaurs, as he wrote in an e-mail.

That event played a major role in penguin history. Advance, for a non-flying sea birds would be threatened by large marine reptile predators, which would also compete with the birds for food. But as soon as the extinction wiped out the reptiles, the ability to fly was not as important, opening the door for the penguins to appear.

Birds often evolve to larger sizes, after they lose the ability to fly, Mayr said. In fact, the new paper concludes that large size appeared more than once in the penguin family tree.

What happened to the giants?

Mayr said the researchers believe they died out when large marine mammals such as toothed whales and seals to see, and that the competition for safe nesting sites and food. The newcomers may also be hunted on the great penguins, ” he said.

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