Posts Tagged ‘giant penguin’

Giant Prehistoric Penguin Found

August 11, 2014
The awe-inspiring Palaeeudyptes klekowskii, at nearly 7 feet tall - believed to be the biggest penguin ever.

The awe-inspiring Palaeeudyptes klekowskii, at nearly 7 feet tall – believed to be the biggest penguin ever.

Penguins are adorable – their tuxedo plumage, their precious waddle with their little vestigial wings balancing them, their charming fluffy chicks resting on daddy’s scaly clawed feet. You look down at them and smile.

Now imagine one looking down at you. Wonder what he’d think?  Fossil penguins that are nearly seven feet long and almost certainly taller than you have been discovered on the Antarctic Peninsula by Argentine paleontologists, who have dubbed the extinct bird ‘Colossus’ by virtue of its awesome proportions.

More formally known as Palaeeudyptes klekowskii, it is the largest-known penguin ever to have walked (waddled) the earth.

It bears elaboration that penguins aren’t measured by “height,” but by “length,” because of their penguin-like posture. Their height is somewhat lesser than their length from beak-tip to toes. In the case of Colossus penguin, its beak was mighty long.  But, unless you’re NBA material, it most likely towered over you.

Experts had known that giant penguins had existed, says paleontologist Carolina Acosta Hospitaleche, who works at the La Plata Museum. They just hadn’t thought they got that big.

The breakthrough was when Acosta Hospitaleche found an astonishingly large tarsometatarsus – a fused ankle-foot bone – that spanned 9.1 centimeters (about 4 inches) on Seymour Island. It was the biggest ever found for a penguin, and from it she extrapolated that the bird was a hair over two meters long, from beak-tip to toe.

The biggest contemporary penguin is the Emperor, which is pretty hefty 90 lbs, and can max out at a height, I mean length of just about four feet.  Colossus was nearly three feet taller and weighed twice as much as the Emperor, around 250 pounds, say the scientists.


Present Day Emperor Penguin and Chick

Sad to say this big boy went extinct some 35 million years ago, a time when the region was somewhat warmer, rather like the tip of South America today. The Colossus was one of many species – about ten, or 14, depending on classifications by squabbling paleontologists – of penguin on Seymour Island.

Modern-day penguins swim beautifully, but Colossus had stamina that beat the lot, able to stay underwater for 40 minutes at a stretch, says the team from Argentina’s Museum of Natural Science. Yet they went extinct.

All of this begs a question about latter-day penguins. The birds are famous for preferring cold climes. What will happen to them in the changing, warmer world? Some scientists believe they may survive through adaptation, based on evidence that colonies thought to have disappeared had actually simply upped and moved.

A Giant Penguin

August 2, 2011

They may not be giants, but there seems to be a Giants theme at the San Francisco Zoo as Giants catcher Buster Posey now has his own namesake at the zoo – an outgoing Magellanic penguin with a cute waddle. That Posey was a girl penguin didn’t seem to be a problem for the hundreds of zoo visitors who turned out to see her and the zoo’s four other young penguins rejoin their colony Saturday. They had spent the last month or so in school, becoming used to their keepers while getting ready to swim. Dressed appropriately in their natural formal wear, the five classmates made the annual march through a crowd of human well-wishers to mark their official graduation from fish school. As Posey dived into the penguin pool, she officially joined a zoo family that also includes Giants namesakes Brian Wilson the (clean shaven) hippo and Lincecum the howler monkey, also a girl. Her name was chosen in a random drawing from suggestions submitted by zoo members Saturday morning.

The annual March of the Penguins is a huge draw for the zoo, which has the largest captive Magellanic colony in the world with 49 of the black and white birds. They are “world-famous penguins,” said Anthony Brown, the primary penguin keeper. The newest members were hatched on Penguin Island and spent their first four to six weeks with their parents. Still unable to swim – and with their parents increasingly leaving them alone – they were then taken off to fish school to keep them safe, said Brown, who can tell every one of the 49 penguins apart. “That’s Mona,” he said, pointing to a penguin 20 feet away that looked to a visitor exactly like all the other penguins. Nearby swam Sparkles, appropriately named given her prima donna attitude, Brown said. “All animals have individual personalities,” the keeper said. “These guys take it to a whole other level.” Posey, for example, is an outgoing girl who loves to hang out with people. One of her classmates, Ludwig, is also an extrovert, while the other three still-unnamed penguins are a bit more shy. Zoo volunteer Adriana Thumm was among the humans who helped socialize the new penguins in fish school – a job that required a background check and some seniority, said the 34-year-old native San Franciscan. She watched with pride as they waddled without fear through the crowd and into their pool. Thumm spent about three hours total sitting with the penguins, who cuddled and climbed on her. “They’re a little smelly,” she said. “But it’s totally worth it. You just don’t make plans to go out after. “The zoo added the penguin colony to its exhibits in 1984, starting with 69 Magellanic birds, which are considered a near-threatened species, Brown said. Since then, 200 more have hatched, with some sent to zoos around the world. The colony has made international headlines over the years, most recently for the split of two gay penguins caught in a love triangle with a female widow. While the nearby rhino is nice and the gorilla is a big draw for others, the penguins have always been Dylan Buren’s favorite. Dylan, who has been coming to the zoo with his family at least a few times a year since he was born, said he always stops by to hang out and watch the birds, although he wasn’t quite sure why he loved them the most. “I like the water too,” the Sonoma County teen said finally. As zoo members, Dylan, his parents and brother Tyler were allowed in the gates early Saturday to watch the March of the Penguins – the perfect way to spend Dylan’s 13th birthday. Attendees could enter a naming contest for the female penguin, with the winner chosen at random. With each Buren decked out head to toe in Giants gear, the family came up with their pick in the car Saturday morning. Posey. “I don’t believe we won,” said mom Kristy Buren. “We never win anything.” For nearly an hour after the graduation ceremony ended, Dylan stood at the penguin pool rails watching the birds glide through the water and waddle out onto their island for fish. Every now and then he would spot his penguin Posey, who stood out with her all-black armband. He noted that she needed a little orange to go with her black and white tux. Nonetheless, Posey the penguin was, “the best birthday present ever.”

Posey leads his mates at the S.F. Zoo

Giant Penguin Fossil Found

October 2, 2010

Just when we thought our giant 42″ tall inflatable penguin was big, scientists have come across the fossil remains of a five foot tall penguin. The first thing the graduate student saw was a set of foot bones at the surface of an excavation site in Peru. He turned over a rock and noticed a pattern of scales. This hinted that the large fossil might still have soft tissue intact — a rarity. The team of paleontologists nicknamed the specimen “Pedro” and took it to the lab for further examination. It turned out to be the remains of a 5-foot, 120-pound penguin — one of the largest ancient penguins ever found, according to an online report this week in the journal Science. Inkayaku paracasensis, as University of Texas paleontologist Julia Clarke and her team officially named the species, lived about 36 million years ago. One of the oldest ancient penguins found in Peru, it would have been about a third taller and twice as heavy as the emperor penguin, the largest penguin living today.  Pedro is the most complete ancient penguin fossil yet reported — and he still has some of his feathers. “This is an extraordinary fossil find,” said Paul Scofield, curator of vertebrate zoology at the Canterbury Museum in Christchurch, New Zealand. Scofield studies ancient penguins but was not involved in Pedro’s discovery. Among other surprises, it appears that Inkayaku didn’t wear the classic penguin “tuxedo.” Pedro’s “suit” may have been reddish-brown and gray, the team reported. They figured that out using a cutting-edge color-mapping technique that examined the shape of melanosomes — the pigment-containing organelles inside cells — in the fossilized feathers. Then they compared them to a database of melanosomes from living penguins and other bird species. While the shape and pattern of Pedro’s flipper feathers resembled those of modern penguins, the melanosomes were quite different. Pedro’s melanosomes looked more like the organelles that contain gray and reddish-brown pigment in other kinds of birds, according to the report. Those of modern penguins are larger, and they cluster into grape-like formations that could alter the feathers’ microstructure. Clark said that the large melanosomes of the modern penguins might produce stronger feathers well-suited for swimming. Penguin evolution “is more complicated than we imagined,” said Scofield, who is still looking for the “missing link” that led to the modern birds. “There’s huge diversity.”

This Giant Penguin Is The Inflatable Kind

Giant Penguin Found!

January 2, 2010

The Penguin Post has learned that scientists have uncovered fossils which reveal the ancestor of the penguin to be a fearsome beast far removed from the waddling bird in dinner-suit plumage which has endeared itself to cinema audiences. The fossils, which were found in Peru, suggest a creature that was more than 5 feet tall and weighed as much as a human. The 36 million-year-old tropical bird’s intimidating appearance was topped off with powerful arms, a chunky neck and a potentially vicious foot long beak. “It’s a monster,” said Professor Julia Clarke, of North Carolina State University, who described the fossils with her team in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The discovery of the giant bird has shaken scientists’ understanding of penguin evolution. The find indicates that penguins made the journey to equatorial regions much earlier in their evolutionary history than researchers realized. And because the penguins lived during a period when the planet was experiencing a “greenhouse” climate, the pair of species that have been discovered are challenging what researchers thought they knew about how species adapt to hotter temperatures. The giant species has been named Icadyptes salasi. If it were alive today, it would tower over the largest penguins on the planet, the nearly 4 foot tall Emperors, whose epic migration across the Antarctic wilderness to bring food to their chicks was celebrated in the film March of the Penguins. “The bone preservation is extremely good,” Professor Clarke said. The detail is so clear that researchers were able to see fine patterning on the beak of the giant penguin left by a sheet of keratin, the material that makes up feathers. The team does not have any direct evidence for the new discovery’s diet, but the wings were adapted for swimming and found in sediments laid down just off shore. Its elongated beak would have been capable of snaring large fish, but its shape is unusual. “It is distinct from anything we have in living penguins,” Professor Clarke said. Attachment points for neck muscles are also large, suggesting it had a powerful neck for spearing prey. The discovery goes against the general rule that as climatic conditions get warmer, species tend to evolve into a smaller body size. The theory is that large size is useful in the cold because it reduces the ratio of surface area to volume, making it easier to conserve heat. But Icadyptes salasi was found in a region that resembled the modern-day Atacama Desert in Chile. The find contradicts the idea that penguins did not reach equatorial regions until 4 million to 8 million years ago, well after a cooling period had set in that began to swell the polar icecaps. Today, only one species, the Humboldt penguin, is found on the coast of Peru. The team is keen to point out that although these species were adapted to the tropics, it does not mean that current penguin species will be able to adapt quickly to climate change. “Current global warming is occurring on a significantly shorter time scale,” Professor Clarke said.