Human-sized penguins once waddled the Earth

Giant 6-foot prehistoric penguin swan of the coast of New Zealand

Human-sized penguins once waddled the Earth

By comparing features and dimensions of Kumimanu's bones with other ancient penguin remains, the research team was able to get an idea of how closely related Kumimanu was to other species, along with an assessment of the extinct bird's size.

Caption: Artistic reconstruction of Kumimanu biceae in size comparison to a human diver.

This illustration provided by Gerald Mayr shows the sizes of an ancient giant penguin Kumimanu biceae and a human being. The Emperor Penguin, which is the largest penguin that exists today at up to four feet and 99 pounds, would have been dwarfed by the giant bird.

Based on an analysis of the fossils, researchers have determined that in its lifetime the penguin reached a height of almost nearly 6 feet tall (1.7 meters) and weighed around 220 pounds (100 kilograms).

The bird has been named Kumimanu biceae, from kumi, which means a large mythological monster in the Maori language. Another giant penguin species is called Icadyptes salasi and stood almost five feet tall.

Many millions of years ago, the seas were full of large, predatory marine reptiles.

Human-sized penguins once waddled the Earth

WASHINGTON-Scientists have unearthed in New Zealand fossil bones of what might be the heavyweight champion of the penguin world, a bird almost 6 feet tall that thrived 55 to 60 million years ago, relatively soon after the demise of the dinosaurs.

"The fossils are therefore among the oldest known penguin remains, and it is remarkable that even these early forms reached such an enormous size", Gerald Mayr of the Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt, said in a statement. On Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017, researchers announced their find of fossils from approximately 60-55 million years ago, discovered in New Zealand, that put the creature at about 1.77 metres (5 feet, 10 inches) long when swimming, and 101 kilograms (223 pounds). Still, they told The Guardian that it was one of the tallest penguins to have ever been found.

"Gigantism in penguins evolved a few times", Mayr said.

Some of Kumimanu's bones are bigger than their counterparts in any other penguin. At the time, New Zealand and Antarctica were subtropical. Both of these birds likely represent the most primitive branches of the penguins' genetic family tree, with K. biceae being even farther apart from the giant penguins described above. After that, penguins had free reign of the ocean since their largest predators had all died. The newcomers may also have hunted the big penguins, he said. Or perhaps the penguins themselves became the resource.

Studies suggest early penguins were brownish, not the trademark black and white of today's penguins, Mayr said.

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