When most people think of fossils, they probably imagine dinosaur bones and footprints trapped in mud before anything else. That’s not necessarily incorrect, but there’s much more to paleontology than just that!
Fossil records have revealed a great many extinct and forgotten species over the years, from birds to fish and even long-lost mammals like the mastodon. There’s no telling what other lost species are still left to be discovered below the Earth’s surface!
For example, consider this recent discovery that scientists made in Antarctica. Once upon a time, it was a much different place… with one extra-special species of penguin!
Scientists in Antarctica found fossil remains of the largest penguin species in the history of the planet. Appropriately dubbed the “colossus penguin,” it lived roughly 37 million years ago, weighed 250 pounds, and could reach up to six feet and eight inches long! (That’s as tall as LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers!)
New Scientist / Twitter
No word yet on whether they could dunk.
This is an artist’s approximation of how large these penguins would have been compared to humans (Homo sapiens are a relatively young species by comparison). Can you even imagine seeing these enormous penguins at the zoo?
By scaling and comparing the bones of these colossus penguins to those of modern-day penguin species, scientists were able to estimate how large these prehistoric birds may have been. The difference is remarkable!
Jason Auch / Wikimedia Commons
By way of comparison, the heaviest and tallest current-day penguin species is the emperor penguin. They measure about four feet tall as adults, and usually weigh approximately 100 pounds each. They, too, are endemic to Antarctica. Still, that’s nothing compared to the colossus!
Michael Van Woert, NOAA NESDIS, ORA / Wikimedia Commons
These incredible animals have been given the scientific name of Palaeeudyptes klekowskii. They lived around the Late Eocene epoch, which took place about 56 to 3.9 million years ago. At the time, Antarctica was warmer, with a climate similar to that of South America’s southern tip.
According Carolina Acosta Hospitaleche, a paleontologist from the National University of La Plata, somewhere between 10 and 14 different penguin species lived together on the coast of Antarctica during this era. It sure sounds like it was a great time to be a penguin!
cmichel67 / Flickr
Chances are, colossus penguins were excellent hunters. To this day, bigger penguins tend to be able to hold their breath longer than smaller ones. It’s possible that these giant penguins may have been able to stay underwater for over 40 minutes before coming up for air!
Tor-Egil Farestveit / Wikimedia Commons
Never before had there been any fossil records in the Antarctic that were quite as complete as those of the colossus penguin. One has to imagine that these remains become harder to retrieve over time, considering the environment in which they were uncovered.
The fossil remains were found on a series of 16 islands on the Antarctic peninsula called La Meseta, on a particular island called Seymour Island (shown here as number eight). It has a reputation among scientists as being a great source of penguin bones.
Finlay McWalker / Wikimedia Commons
Penguins of all types are absolutely fascinating, not to mention adorable, so it’s a real shame that we’ll never be able to meet one of these colossus penguins for ourselves. Luckily, there are still plenty of other penguins to love!
It’s amazing to think that scientists are still discovering fantastic fossils like these, even in an area as remote as Antarctica. There’s no telling what they’ll find next!
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