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Giant Penguin

A team of explorers has stumbled across a new species of penguin that has rocked the biodiversity world to its core.

Although the newly discovered bird looks very much like a king penguin, it stands at nearly 2 m tall making it almost twice the height of penguins we are currently familiar with. Adult emperor penguins, the largest of modern species of penguins, only grow to about 120 cm.

The giant penguin, Palaeeudyptes ordyslailafo, is believed to be a distant relative of an ancient breed dubbed the “colossus penguin” that lived millions of years ago and whose fossil was discovered by a team of researchers from the La Plata Museum in Argentina last year.

The remains of that penguin, Palaeeudyptes klekowskii, are over 35 million years old and include the longest recorded fused ankle-foot bone as well as parts of a wing bone.

The Argentinian researchers estimated that it would have stood over 2 m tall and weighed as much as 115 kg, about the weight of another black and white creature; the giant panda.

A number of theories have been put forward to explain the existence of these big birds. In prehistoric times, the region was warmer and a penguin of larger build could dive underwater to hunt for fish for significantly longer periods than its smaller counterparts.

It is thought that the recently discovered penguin has evolved its great height due to climate change and a lack of natural food resources. The original giant penguins' disappearance coincided with a drop in temperature and the spread of fish-eating whales with teeth which competed with them for food.

Dr Berlin, a German research scientist seconded to Tokyo's Ueno Zoo, who led the expedition said, “We couldn’t believe it at first. We were all very cold and hungry so we thought perhaps we were hallucinating.

“However, on closer inspection it was clear this giant penguin was real. It was scary, surreal but ultimately exciting at the same time.”

It is not known how many of these birds are in existence, but like all penguins P ordyslailafo is flightless and as far as the researchers could observe subsists on a diet of fish, squid and krill.

However, Dr Berlin added, “We may finally have an answer to that age-old question of why polar bears don’t eat penguins. It’s not because they can’t get the wrappers off but because they decided to move to the other side of the planet away from a potential predator.”

The team hopes to return to Antarctica in the coming months to study P ordyslailafo further. Their research is aiming to discover how species will adapt in the future as the Earth gets warmer.

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