Canterbury Museum

Monster Penguin The Size Of Humans Once Lived In New Zealand

Think of the penguins you know and love today — those toddling, flightless birds, perpetually sporting a tuxedo and charming the world over with their sweet deposition and desire for endless tickles.

I can't be the only one who went through an intense penguin phase as a kid. At some point or another, I think we've all dreamed of owning one of these adorable creatures for ourselves because how hard can it be to take care of an arctic sea bird? They're basically like cats, right?

While penguins nowadays are relatively small and (we'd like to think) super cuddly, it turns out ancient penguins were not quite so innocent. In fact, they were massive.

Researchers have unearthed the fossilized remains of a pretty intimidating penguin from the past.

Canterbury Museum

According to CNN, a team of scientists from Canterbury Museum discovered the fossils in Waipara, New Zealand, and have revealed that this particular species stood as tall as a human being.

The giant penguin has been dubbed Crossvallia waiparensis, after its town of discovery.

Unsplash | Paul Carroll

The bird stood at an impressive 1.6 meters (5 feet 3 inches) and weighed in at roughly 70-80 kilograms (154-176 lbs) — about four times heavier and 15 inches taller than the modern Emperor penguin.

Scientists estimate this particularly monstrous penguin roamed the earth between 66 and 56 million years ago, during the Paleocene Epoch. This would make it one of the world's oldest known penguin species.

The penguin has joined the list of extinct "megafauna" (big animals) that existed in the same region around this time.

Unsplash | John Torcasio

Its fellow megafuna include giant kangaroos and wombats, as well as the marsupial lion and just a few other massive animals we like to thank our lucky stars no longer exist: huge snakes, lizards, and birds, to name a few.

New Zealand was once also home to the world's largest parrot, which was just discovered days ago in the region.

Dr. Brian Choo/Flinders University

Scientists unearthed the remains of this super-sized bird which they claim flew the skies around 20 million years ago and was roughly half the size of a human being at 3 feet tall.

The species has appropriately been dubbed "Heracles" in honor of its Herculean size and strength. But, we now know it didn't even come close to this newly discovered monster of a penguin.

So what else do we know about this gigantic ancient penguin?

Canterbury Museum

Well, researchers say this particular species had leg bones that make them conclude that their feet were significantly more important in swimming than those of the penguins we know today.

That, or they simply hadn't adapted to standing up.

Dr. Vanessa De Pietri of the Canterbury Museum revealed that this discovery has shed some light on the earliest species of penguins.

Unsplash | Cassidy Mills

"It further reinforces our theory that penguins attained a giant size very early in their evolution," she said.

She also said the giant penguin's closest relative is another Paleocene species, Crossvallia unienwillia, which was discovered in Antarctica, thus providing a close connection between Antarctica and New Zealand.

Dr. Paul Scofield, a natural history curator at the museum, said the land this particular penguin roamed was unlike what modern penguins explore today.

Unsplash | Torsten Dederichs

"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," he explained.

The giant penguin is believed to have rapidly evolved after the dinosaurs disappeared.

Unsplash | Fausto García

Around the same time, large marine reptiles had also vanished from the waters of the southern hemisphere, which were also significantly warmer than they are today.

It's unclear just how or why this species disappeared from the oceans millions of years ago, but researchers suspect it may have something to do with the arrival of much larger marine competitors, like seals and toothed whales.

h/t: CNN, New Zealand Herald

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