The fossilized leg bones of a giant penguin that lived 61 million years ago have been discovered in New Zealand.
The fossil was found by amateur fossil collector Leigh Love in the Waipara Greensand at Waipara River, Canterbury Province, New Zealand.
It was analyzed by a team of paleontologists from Canterbury Museum in Christchurch, New Zealand, and the Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt, Germany.
According to the researchers, the new find is one of the oldest penguin fossils in the world.
“Together with the fossils of the recently discovered penguin-like bird Waimanu manneringi, the new specimens are the earliest published penguin remains,” they said.
The newly-discovered bird waddled the Earth during the Paleocene epoch.
It was about 5 feet (1.5 m) tall, making it almost as big as Anthropornis nordenskjoeldi (the largest known fossil penguin, which lived in Antarctica between 45 and 33 million years ago).
“Penguins had reached enormous proportions early on in their evolutionary history and were already more diverse 60 million years ago than we had previously assumed,” said team member Dr. Gerald Mayr, of the Senckenberg Research Institute.
“This diversity indicates that penguins probably evolved during the ‘Age of the Dinosaurs’ more than 65 million years ago.”
The bird’s bones differ substantially from previous penguin finds of a similar age and show that the variety of Paleocene penguins was greater than previously thought.
“The flattened and wide tarsometatarsus of the new taxon from the Waipara Greensand exhibits a much more derived…