Youngsters uncover large penguin’s fossil skeleton in New Zealand

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What’s black and white and the dimensions of a 10-year-old youngster? A large, extinct penguin that lived between 27 million and 35 million years in the past in what’s now New Zealand. 

The large diving chook stood about 4.5 ft (1.4 meters) tall and had unusually lengthy legs and beak for a penguin, in response to scientists who just lately described it as a newfound species. It was found in 2006 by fossil-hunting college students with the Hamilton Junior Naturalist Membership (JUNATS), a pure historical past membership in Hamilton, New Zealand, for youngsters ages 10 to 18. 

A gaggle of membership members, led by JUNATS fossil skilled Chris Templer, discovered the extinct large’s bones on a small peninsula in Kawhia Harbor throughout a discipline journey. The fossil is essentially the most full large penguin skeleton ever found, and the size of its hind limbs impressed researchers to call it Kairuku waewaeroa: “waewae” means “legs” and “roa” means “lengthy” within the Māori language, scientists wrote in a brand new research concerning the large chook.

Associated: Photographs of flightless birds: See all 18 penguin species

In the present day, the biggest dwelling penguin species is the emperor penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri), which might measure as much as 4 ft (1.2 m) tall and weigh as much as 99 lbs. (45 kilograms). Nonetheless, large penguins that have been even greater have been extra frequent through the Paleogene interval (about 66 million to 23 million years in the past) throughout Zealandia — a landmass that features New Zealand, and which is now principally underwater. Big penguins that lived thousands and thousands of years in the past have been additionally thinner than portly emperor penguins, the researchers reported.

When the JUNATS younger naturalists spied the fossil, it was protruding of a block of sandstone that had been uncovered by the tide, and so they initially mistook it for a rusty propeller. However Templer and one other group chief, Tony Lorimer, rapidly realized that they’d discovered one thing distinctive, in response to Hamilton’s Waikato Museum. 

“I went ‘Oh my God’ and nearly keeled over on the reef,” Templer instructed Agence France Presse in 2006. On the time, he additionally instructed the Waikato Museum, “We have been on the lookout for fossil sea urchins and what we discovered was a penguin — what a bonus!”

However the fossil was at risk of being broken by ocean erosion. Its location “was simply on the perimeter of a scenic reserve,” but it surely was additionally in a spot that was solely accessible between excessive and low tides, so officers allowed the membership to excavate the fossil, Templer instructed Stuff, a New Zealand information web site, in 2018. He ready the discover at his residence, and it remained at JUNATS’ Te Kauri Lodge Museum till 2017, when the membership donated the skeleton to the Waikato Museum, in response to an announcement.

(A) A line drawing of the Kairuku waewaeroa specimen. (B) A photograph of the specimen with most bones in ventral view. (C) Skeletal and measurement comparability of Kairuku waewaeroa and emperor penguin, Aptenodytes forsteri.  (Picture credit score: Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology)

There, scientists measured and scanned the skeleton, reconstructing it as a 3D mannequin. The researchers in contrast the penguin’s bones to these of different large penguins from the Paleogene, and their measurements confirmed that Ok. waewaeroa would have towered over different species within the Kairuku genus, mentioned research co-author Daniel Thomas, a senior lecturer in zoology at Massey College’s College of Pure and Computational Sciences in Auckland, New Zealand. 

Longer legs can also have performed a task in Ok. waewaeroa’s efficiency within the water, serving to it to swim quicker or dive deeper, Thomas mentioned within the assertion.

Ok. waewaeroa was actually an enormous amongst penguins, however the species is emblematic to New Zealanders for different causes, too, Thomas mentioned. 

“The fossil penguin reminds us that we share Zealandia with unbelievable animal lineages that attain deep into time, and this sharing offers us an essential guardianship function,” he mentioned. “The best way the fossil penguin was found — by youngsters out discovering nature — reminds us of the significance of encouraging future generations to turn out to be kaitiaki [guardians].”

The findings have been revealed Sept. 16 within the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

Initially revealed on Dwell Science.

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