Scientists have figured out that giant, man-sized penguins once inhabited New Zealand.
The bones of K. bicaea were found on a beach in New Zealand. The bones were embedded in rock. They had such an obscured appearance that experts initially thought that the bones had come from a turtle.
Scientists figured out that the bones belonged to a giant penguin. The penguin was about 1 ½ times larger than the emperor penguin—the largest species of penguin that exists in the present day.
Scientists found out that the giant penguin had been about 5 feet, 9 inches tall. It weighed about 223 pounds. The human-like size of the extinct creature greatly surprised scientists.
The scientists dated the remains at 55.5 million years to 59.5 million years, placing the dead creature’s time of life in the Paleocene epoch. During the Paleocene epoch, the world was warmer. There were subtropical waters in Antarctica.
The age of the remains surprised scientists, because they show that a species of over-sized penguin showed up surprisingly early in the family tree of penguin species. Over-sized penguin remains have been found previously in the past, though they were dated to have been from periods of tens of millions of years after the date of K. bucaea.
Scientists did not think that they would find an over-sized penguin species from so early on. These remains show that after the dinosaurs were killed off 66 million years ago, K. bicaea quickly grew in size within the course of 5 million years.
There is a hypothesis that the flying ancestors of penguins lived alongside dinosaurs. When a giant extinction event happened to the dinosaurs, the penguins eventually became flightless and developed swimming skills.
It is thought that the ancestors of these giant penguins started to become huge as they became flightless. This is due to the fact that once birds become flightless, weight and height become less of a disadvantage. In fact, weight and height may come to a flightless bird’s advantage because it makes the bird more capable of defending itself against predators.
Scientists ponder about why K. bicaea became extinct. Some think that there could have been competition for food and breeding grounds with other animals such as toothed whales and seals. Others think that K. bicaea may have even been hunted by other animals.
What is interesting is that K. bicaea has been found among other penguin species, suggesting that they may have coexisted.