27 million-year-old penguin fossil found by group of children in New Zealand
The fossil that a group of Kiwi children stumbled upon during a summer camp has been recognized as a new species of giant prehistoric penguin.
In 2006, the Hamilton Junior Naturalist Club in New Zealand took a group of children on a fossil hunt in Upper Kawhia Harbor. O
During the trip, they discovered much more than the tiny crustacean fossils they had traded. Accompanied by an archaeologist, the group found what would later be identified as “the most complete fossilized skeleton of an ancient giant penguin yet to be discovered”.
Researchers from Massey University in New Zealand and the Bruce Museum in the United States analyzed the fossil with 3D scanning technology at the Waikato Museum in Hamilton.
Research published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology defined the species they found as “Kairuku waewaeroa”, a new species of giant penguin.
Defining the ancient species of penguin
The penguin is believed to be between 27.3 and 34.6 million years old. The fossil helped clarify the chronology of the evolution of penguins to become the animals they are today.
“The penguin is similar to the giant Kairuku penguins first described, but has much longer legs,” explains Daniel thomas, senior lecturer in zoology at the Massey School of Natural and Computer Sciences.
The name “waewaeroa” is Maori for “long legs” because the penguin species is significantly larger than other ancient penguins. The penguin must have been around 1.4 meters tall.
The emperor penguin, the largest living penguin species, is usually around 1 meter tall.
The place of the penguin in New Zealand history
“The fossil penguin reminds us that we share Zealandia (old New Zealand) with incredible animal lines that go back a long way, and this sharing gives us an important guardianship role,” continues Thomas.
Research suggests that Kairuku penguins are a unique species never to have been found except in Zealandia.
“Kairuku penguins had a wide distribution across Zealandia during the Oligocene. Interestingly, given their likely offshore foraging ecology, there are no records of Kairuku penguins on other continents yet, ”the document notes.
There are already many species of penguins native to New Zealand. This is another example, highlighting the importance of penguins in New Zealand history.
“Finding fossils near us reminds us that we share our environment with animals that are the descendants of lineages that go back to distant times,” says Mike Safey, president of the Hamilton Junior Naturalist Club who was 13 when the group discovered the fossil. .
“How and why did the penguins become giants, and why are there no more giants?” Well-preserved fossils like this can help us answer these questions, ”he continues.
Reflecting on the discovery 15 years ago, Safey adds, “It’s a bit surreal knowing that a discovery we made as children so many years ago contributes to academia today.”