Giant penguin fossils in South America, Bird species fossils

Giant Penguin Fossils Found in South America

September 18, 2007 by  
Filed under Features

The Giant Penguin fossils found in South America, more specifically in Peru, have been a monumental discovery. The research of the two new penguin species found in Peru was conducted by Julia Clarke and funded by the Expeditions Council of the National Geographic Society. Finding giant penguin fossils in South America casts a shadow on the previous belief that penguins can only survive in the cold. Unearthing penguin fossils in a tropical region sheds a whole new light on penguins from the past.

Researchers that have been studying the giant penguin fossils found in South America, have stressed that even though these fossils have shown these penguins were able to adapt to climate change, this does not apply to the penguins that roam the earth today. The find has sparked an interest in researching climate change effects, but it is known that the penguins that are alive today are adapted to life in colder temperatures and will more than likely not survive in warm regions.

The discovery included the first complete skull of a giant penguin, which has been dated to back to approximately 36 million years ago. This new giant penguin has been named Icadyptes salasi and would have dwarfed the Emperor Penguins that stand at a height of 1.2 meters. It has been calculated that the Icadyptes salasi, would have stood 1.5 meters tall and would have weighed the same as the average human. This makes the giant penguin fossils in South America the third largest penguin found to date. The largest penguin fossils ever found belong to the Anthropirnis nordenskjoeldi, that is believed to have weighed approximately a hundred kilograms and stood at a height of two meters. From the skeletal remains of the flippers of the Icadyptes salasi, it has been suggested that their swimming capabilities and walking styles varied from the penguins we know today. It also has a very long beak and the points in the neck show large muscle attachment areas, meaning that this penguin had an extremely powerful neck. Researchers therefore believe that its hunting and feeding habits were also very different and it has been speculated that they might have speared their prey with their beaks. The second skeleton that was recovered is of a smaller species and its height estimated to be approximately one meter, slightly shorter than the King Penguin.

Even though the giant penguin fossils found in South America are a significant find, and a window into the species that once roamed this planet, it is important to remember that they cannot be compared to the living species. There are similarities, no doubt, but climate, land, terrain and food sources are different, and so are their survival limitations. If anything, the fossils should remind us to appreciate and respect the species that are alive today, to protect them and support conservation. If not, future generations might only have fossils to look at, and a list of speculations.

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