Monster penguin fossils found in North Canterbury

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

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

The island of New Zealand was also once the home of a giant flightless bird known as the moa and a giant eagle with a three-metre wingspan.

Analysis of the C. waiparensis fossils showed that its closest known relative was another Paleocene giant penguin species known as Crossvallia unienwillia which was first discovered in Antarctica, underlining the ancient connection between the icy continent and New Zealand. The landmass that would become New Zealand began splitting from Antarctica some 80 million years ago, but during the era of the giant penguins, the regions boasted similarly warm environments.

Amateur paleontologist Leigh Love found the remains of C. waiparensis a year ago at the Waipara Greensand in North Canterbury; local fossil collector Al Mannering helped describe them.

"It further reinforces our theory that penguins attained a giant size very early in their evolution".

A "monster penguin" which stood as tall as a human has been identified by scientists in New Zealand.

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

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Described this week in Alcheringa: An Australasian Journal of Palaeontology, the new species stood roughly 5 feet and 3 inches tall and weighed almost 180 pounds.

The Waipara Greensand site has proved rich in ancient penguin fossils, and this latest discovery is in fact the fifth to be identified there.

They tentatively named the bird Crossvallia waiparensis, assigning it to the Crossvalia genus of another large penguin and the name waiparensis from the Waipara river. The "Heracles inexpectatus" grew to about twice the size of the New Zealand kakapo, the largest parrot species now on Earth.

Canterbury Museum curators Dr Paul Scofield and Dr Vanesa De Pietri, and Dr Gerald Mayr of Senckenberg Natural History Museum in Frankfurt, Germany, analysed the bones, and local Al Mannering prepared them for study and helped describe them. Giant penguins became extinct within the last 30 million years as larger marine mammals returned to the oceans. 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. "The water temperature around New Zealand then was flawless, around 25 degrees Celsius, compared to eight degrees now", said senior curator at Canterbury Museum, Paul Scofield.

Massey University professor John Cockrem, a penguin expert who wasn't involved in the research, said the discovery was significant in adding to knowledge about giant penguins and cementing New Zealand's place as the penguin centre of the world.

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