'Monster' penguin once lived in Canterbury

Image Peter Macdiarmid  Getty Images

"When the Crossvallia species were alive, New Zealand and Antarctica were very different from today-Antarctica was covered in forest and both had much warmer climates", Paul Scofield, an author of the study from the Canterbury Museum, said in a statement.

During the time of the giant penguin, New Zealand was still joined with Australia, which in turn is thought to have been connected to Antarctica.

A fossil discovery has added another entry to the list of comically large New Zealand birds: a 1.5 metre tall penguin.

The fossils of several giant species, including C. waiparensis, would be displayed in a new exhibition about prehistoric New Zealand at Canterbury Museum later this year.

It is the fifth ancient penguin species described from fossils uncovered at Waipara, where a river cuts into a cliff of greensand.

Analysis suggests the new species used its feet more for swimming than for walking or standing.

Towering over the modern Emperor penguin-which, at an average 4-feet-tall, is the biggest and heaviest of all living penguins-it weighed up to 176 lbs.

The findings were published in Alcheringa: An Australasian Journal of Palaeontology this week. But not just a penguin, a penguin that was 1.6m tall and 80kg. These include the world's largest parrot, a giant eagle, giant burrowing bat, the moa and other giant penguins.

It's not just the height that differentiates C.waiparensis from modern penguins, however. Giant penguins became extinct within the last 30 million years as larger marine mammals returned to the oceans. Scientists say the lack of predators allowed such birds to thrive.

"The fossils discovered there have made our understanding of penguin evolution a whole lot clearer", said Dr Gerald Mayr of the Canterbury Museum.

Love said he spotted the fragments in an eroding bank.

"It inspires me to go out and look for more", he said.

According to researchers, the giant penguin's closest relative is another Paleocene species, Crossvallia unienwillia, and this second discovery provides further evidence that early penguins were massive.

From the shape of these leg bones, paleontologists could tell that this new species is distinct from all the other giant penguins found at the site.

Dr. Paul Scofield, senior curator natural history at Canterbury Museum, holds the fossil, a tibiotarsus, top, next to a similar bone of an emperor penguin in Christchurch, New Zealand, Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2019.

The newly-identified species of penguins is believed to have grown this big because they rapidly evolved evolved in the Palaeocene epoch after the dinosaurs vanished on Earth and large marine reptiles disappeared from the southern hemisphere waters.



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