A group of international researchers announced the discovery of what may have been the largest penguin ever to have lived.
Recent fossil findings led to the announcement of Kumimanu fordycei, a new species collected from the Otago region of New Zealand. Notably, Kumimanu is a combination of the Maori words for “monster” and “bird.”
A study was published in the Journal of Paleontology on Wednesday, also announcing another new extinct penguin species known as Petradyptes stonehousei.
The Paleocene era fossils were collected at the Moeraki Formation of New Zealand’s South Island, according to a release from the University of Otago, and discovered in 57-million-year-old beach boulders in North Otago by Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa curator Alan Tennyson between 2016 and 2017.
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The research shows the Petradyptes stonehousei was slightly larger than the extant emperor penguin. Two small humeri found also represent an additional smaller unnamed penguin species.
The authors said that the sizes of Kumimanu fordycei and Petradyptes stonehousei indicate that penguins were very large early in their evolutionary history, before they fine-tuned their flipper apparatus.
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To estimate the size of the species, the team measured hundreds of present-day penguin bones, calculating a regression using flipper bone dimensions to predict weight. Kumimanu fordycei weighed around 340 pounds.
“A bigger penguin could capture larger prey, and more importantly it would have been better at conserving body temperature in cold waters. It is possible their size allowed the earliest penguins to spread from New Zealand to other parts of the world,” Daniel Ksepka, lead author and a paleontologist at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Connecticut, said in a statement.
Ksepka told The New York Times on Wednesday that Kumimanu fordycei’s height is estimated to be around 5 feet, 2 inches tall.