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Scientists Find Bones from Giant Penguin in New Zealand

Dr. Paul Scofield, senior curator natural history at Canterbury Museum, holds the fossil, a tibiotarsus, top, next to a similar bone of an Emperor Penguin in Christchurch, New Zealand, Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2019.
Scientists Find Bones from Giant Penguin in New Zealand
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Scientists in New Zealand have found fossilized leg bones from a penguin believed to have been about the size of an adult human.

The previously undiscovered giant penguin species likely stood about 1.6 meters tall and weighed up to 80 kilograms.

The penguin existed about 60 million years ago, researchers say. The bones are believed to be from the oldest of several species of giant penguins that lived after dinosaurs died out.

A fossil hunter found the bones last year in the Waipara River bed near the city of Christchurch. The bones are from the animal’s legs and feet.

Scientists confirmed that the bones came from a newly discovered species. They recently reported their results in “Alcheringa: An Australasian Journal of Palaeontology.”

Paul Scofield is senior curator at New Zealand’s Canterbury Museum. He co-wrote a paper on the discovery. He told the Associated Press that the bones are an important find. They show that the species is similar to another giant penguin found in Antarctica in 2000. The latest discovery, he said, helps show a clear connection between the two areas during the Paleocene period. This period lasted from 66 million to 56 million years ago.

Scofield said the penguins were able to grow larger after entering a new development period following the extinction of dinosaurs, sea reptiles and huge fish.

Scofield added that the giant penguins became extinct within 30 million years, as large mammals began to rule the waters.

Ewan Fordyce is a paleontology professor from New Zealand’s University of Otago. He was not involved in the research. He told the AP the penguin was among the oldest ever found. He said one of the most difficult things for scientists making such discoveries is estimating the overall size of the birds based on pieces of bones.

John Cockrem is a penguin expert at the country’s Massey University who was also not involved in the research. He said the discovery helps add to what we know about giant penguins. He said it also confirmed New Zealand as the penguin center of the world.

New Zealand is believed to have been home to many giant bird species that later disappeared. These included the world’s largest parrot, a giant eagle and an emu-like bird called the moa.

Recently, Canterbury Museum announced the discovery of an unusually large parrot believed to have lived about 19 million years ago. Scientists say the bird stood about one meter tall.

I’m Bryan Lynn.

Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English, based on reports from the Associated Press and Agence France-Presse. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

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Words in This Story

previously adv. existing or happening before something else

species n. a biological classification or grouping

curator n. a person with responsibilities over a museum

extinction n. when a type of animal no longer exists