In January 2006, a group of children at a summer camp in Waikato, New Zealand, went on a fossil-hunting excursion with an experienced archaeologist. They kayaked to the Upper Kawhia Harbor, a hotspot for this type of activity, and hoped to find fossils of shellfish and the like, as they regularly did there. Hamilton junior naturalist club expeditions.
But that day, just before returning home, near where they had left the kayaks and well below the high tide mark, they noticed a trail of fossils that looked much more than prehistoric crustaceans. After careful extraction, an archaeologist later identified it as the most complete fossilized skeleton of an ancient giant penguin discovered so far.
According to a study recently published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology according to scientists at Massey University, it was a new species of prehistoric penguin. The discovery is helping scientists fill in some gaps in natural history. Penguin species have a fossil record that dates back almost to the age of the dinosaurs and can tell a lot about the ecology of the past and present.
“Finding fossils near where we live reminds us that we share our environment with animals that are descendants of lineages that go back to deep time,” he said. Mike safey, president of the Hamilton Youth Naturalist Club, which has overseen all work on the fossil penguin since its discovery. “We should act like guardian – guardians – for these descendants if we want these lineages to continue in the future. “
A month after the discovery, the team returned to the site with equipment ranging from gasoline-powered concrete saws and jackhammers to chisels and crowbars, and children and adults alike spent a day cutting the fossil out of the sandstones. It was donated to the Waikato Museum, Waikato Museum, and researchers from Massey University and the Bruce Museum began conducting cutting-edge studies on the fossil.
The scientists concluded that the penguin is between 27.3 and 34.6 million years old and is from a time when much of Waikato was underwater, according to Daniel thomas, Senior Lecturer in Zoology, Massey College of Natural and Computational Sciences.
“The penguin is similar to the giant Kairuku penguins described for the first time, but it has much longer legs,” said Thomas. That is why it has been called waewaeroa, which in Maori means “long legs”. Having legs this long would have made this species much taller than other ancient giant penguins, and it is estimated that it was approximately 1.6 meters long from tip of toe to tip of beak and 1.4 meters tall when standing. standing. This, in turn, would affect how fast you could swim and how deep you could dive.
“Giant penguins like Diver on foot they are much larger than any seabird currently diving, and we know that body size can be an important factor when you think about ecology, ”Safey said. “How and why did penguins become giants and why aren’t there giants left? Well-preserved fossils like this can help us address these questions. “
Little is known about the existence of giant penguins in New Zealand, especially since records from the North Island have long been limited to a few fragmentary specimens. So adding this new information to the rich penguin fossil record provides insight into how penguins adapted and the evolution of the art of adaptation itself.
Discovering that this fossil penguin is a new species was also rewarding for the children at the Hamilton Youth Naturalist Club and will encourage other young people to connect with nature.
Steffan Safey was 13 years old at the time of discovery. “It is somewhat surreal to know that a discovery we made when we were children so many years ago is contributing to the academic world today. And it’s even a new species, ”Safey said.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism