Scientists say monster penguin once swam New Zealand’s oceans

The fossil a tarsometatarsus left is displayed next to a similar bone for an Emperor Penguin in Christchurch

Paleontologists have unearthed the remains of several giant bird species, including a toddler-sized parrot, a giant eagle and an emu-like moa.

Amateur palaeontologist Leigh Love found the bones at the Waipara Greensand fossil site in North Canterbury a year ago.

"It additionally reinforces our theory that penguins attained great dimension early in their evolution", she said.

As hefty as this specimen is, it's not the largest fossil penguin yet discovered, nor even the biggest fossil penguin found on New Zealand.

He said that following the extinction of dinosaurs, marine reptiles and enormous fish, it seemed there was an evolutionary opportunity for penguins to thrive and grow in size.

Interestingly enough, it's understood the species also populated Antarctica's Cross Valley which was made physically possible by the fact that New Zealand and Antarctica were at one point connected by a land bridge.

The huge penguin is just the latest remarkable prehistoric animal to be discovered by scientists in New Zealand.

At 1.6 metres and 80kg (12st), the new species, Crossvallia waiparensis, was four times as heavy and 40cm taller than the emperor penguin, the largest living penguin.

The modern bird stands between 3 and 3.9 feet (0.9 and 1.2 m) tall.

Just last week, Canterbury Museum announced the discovery of a prodigious parrot that was one-meter-tall and lived about 19 million years ago.

"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", Scofield said.

The new study was published online August 12 in the journal Alcheringa: An Australasian Journal of Palaeontology.

Museum curators worked with paleontologists at the Natural History Museum in Frankfurt, Germany, to analyze the remains, ultimately determining that the massive leg bones belonged to a new extinct penguin species.

"Monster penguin" fans can check out a 3D model of the bird online. Anatomical studies suggest that Crossvalia either used their feet more in swimming than do modern penguins, or that the ancient birds hadn't yet adapted to standing upright, as today's penguins do. Nineteen million-year-old fossils of a giant parrot dubbed 'Squawkzilla, ' for example, were found in Central Otago. The similarities between the two species thus highlight New Zealand's "close connection to the icy continent", as the Canterbury Museum puts it.

But he said the giant penguins themselves became extinct within 30 million years as large marine mammals began ruling the waters.

And the study authors believe that the Waipara Greensand site, where C. waiparensis was discovered, holds other secrets to penguins' ancient history.

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