Penguins the size of humans roamed South America some 35 million years ago, and what’s more – they lived in Peru!
A new study by North Carolina State University paleontologist Julia Clarke and her team have discovered two new species of penguins from fossils, including the first complete skull from an ancient giant penguin.
The penguin is reported to have lived in Peru around 36 million years ago and is the third largest penguin known and stood about 4.5 feet (1.5 meters) tall.
The other specimen, dates back to 42 million years and was about three feet (a meter) tall, similar to that of today’s second largest living penguin, the king penguin. The largest penguin around today is the Emperor Penguin, which stands almost 4 feet (1.2 meters) tall.
The earliest known fossil of these aquatic flightless birds, found in New Zealand, dates to about 61 million years ago, not long after the extinction of the dinosaurs and many other life forms 65 million years ago.
Many scientists had believed that penguins did not leave cold-weather regions like Antarctica and New Zealand for warmer, more equatorial regions until perhaps 4 million to 8 million years ago, but these two newly discovered species indicate this took place tens of millions of years earlier.
Penguins tend to populate cold climates such as Antarctica, but also inhabit warmer regions closer to the Equator like the Galapagos Islands.