Fossil of Giant, Spear-Fishing Penguin Found in Peru

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Fossil of Giant, Spear-Fishing Penguin Found in Peru


Original article here.

Mon Jun 25, 4:37 PM ET

CHICAGO, United States (AFP) - Hollywood gave us all-singing, all-dancing penguins, and surfing penguins, but leave it to evolution to give us giant, prehistoric spear-fishing penguins from Peru.

In a case of fact being stranger than fiction, or at least animation, paleontologists have discovered the fossilized remains of a fearsome new species of penguin that lived on the southern coast of Peru about 36 million years ago, according to a study released Monday.

The ancient bird, Icadyptes salasi, stood five foot tall and had a pointed seven-inch beak which it probably used to spear its prey.

The now extinct penguin species is one of the largest ever reported and was recovered from the coastal desert of Peru.

Paleontologists also discovered the skull and partial skeleton of a second extinct penguin species, called Perudyptes devriesi, in the same region.

That penguin lived around 42 million years ago and was comparable in size to the modern King Penguin, 0.75 to .90 meters (2.5 to three feet), which makes its home on sub-Antarctic island groups, including the Falkland Islands.

The penguin fossils are among the most complete ever recovered and are challenging long-held assumptions about the timing and patterns of penguin evolution and dispersal.

Paleontologists and students of the penguin lineage had assumed that penguins evolved in colder climates in the Antarctic and in New Zealand and had only moved to lower latitudes closer to the equator about 10 million years ago -- long after significant global cooling about 34 million years ago.

"We tend to think of penguins as being cold-adapted species, even the small penguins in equatorial regions today," said Julia Clarke, a paleontologist and assistant professor of marine, Earth and atmospheric sciences at North Carolina State University, in Raleigh.

"But the new fossils date back to one of the warmest periods in 65 million years of Earth's history. The evidence indicates that penguins reached low latitude regions more than 30 million years prior to our previous estimates."

What's more, paleontologists generally assume that species moving from cold to warm climates become smaller as the animals do not need to conserve heat.

It's all the more surprising, then, to find giant penguin fossils close to the Earth's equator, especially during the waning days of a greenhouse Earth, the authors of the study noted.

The paper appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.



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