Around 36 million years ago, giant penguins roamed the earth… or at least the tropics of Peru! Although scientists previously believed that penguins didn’t leave cold-weather areas like Antarctica and New Zealand for warmer areas until around 10 million years ago, the fossilized remains of two new penguin species have turned this theory completely around.
Both of the ancient penguins identified lived on the southern coast of Peru, not too far from each other – but the size of one of these penguins is where it really gets interesting. The Icadyptes salasi penguin stood around 5 feet tall, and had a long, protracted skull and an enormous spear-like beak around 7 inches long. Currently, the largest living penguins on earth are the Emperor penguins, who measure around 4 feet tall and have a much smaller beak.
The second species, Perudyptes devriesi, was around 2.5 or 3 feet tall – a size much closer to the living King penguins of today. Visible in the image below, both these penguin species stood much larger than the one species of penguin currently known to be living in Peru’s southern regions. The Icadyptes salasi also visibly dwarfs the second species whose fossils were found nearby!
As evidenced by the picture above, it is highly unusual for such large penguins to inhabit warm climates, but evidently both of these species thrived in the tropical environment! And although a 5 foot tall penguin would certainly be a force to reckon with, it is apparently only the third largest penguin known to have lived… evidently, 65 million years ago, penguins survived the mass extinction of the dinosaurs, living to grow into enormous sizes and later thrive off the coast of New Zealand at around 61 million years ago. Talk about a resilient creature…!
(Unfortunately, complete information on these even larger penguins is yet to be published…)
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Tomorrow: Fine dining in the stone age