Paleontologists have constructed a model of a prehistoric penguin that stood almost 4 feet 6 inches tall when it lived in what is now New Zealand, approximately 25 million years ago.
Named Kairuku, a Maori word that means “diver who returns with food,” the penguin was reconstructed from fossilised bones that were collected in 1977 by Dr Ewan Fordyce, a paleontologist from
the University of Otago.
The bones drew the attention of Dan Ksepka from North Carolina State University because of the unusual shape of the body. “Kairuku was an elegant bird by penguin standards, with a slender body and long flippers, but short, thick legs and feet,” said Ksepka in a press release. “If we had done a reconstruction by extrapolating from the length of its flippers, it would have stood over six-feet tall. In reality, Kairuku was around four feet-and-two-inches tall or so.”
Aided by North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences colleague Paul Brinkman, Ksepka built the physical model of the bird using two separate fossils and the skeleton of an existing king penguin. The resultant reconstruction revealed a penguin that would have been the largest of the five species known to have lived in New Zealand during the Oligocene period. Said Ksepka in the release: “The location was great for penguins in terms of both food and safety. Most of New Zealand was underwater at that time, leaving isolated, rocky land masses that kept the penguins safe from potential predators and provided them with a plentiful food supply.”
The results, which have been published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, are hoped will aid the research into the entire prehistoric penguin population in this area. “This species gives us a more complete picture of these giant penguins generally, and may help us to determine how great their range was during the Oligocene period,” says Ksepka.Share