Fossilized giant penguin discovered by New Zealand schoolchildren revealed as a new species in peer-reviewed study Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology by researchers at Massey University.
Penguins have fossils dating back almost as far as the age of dinosaurs, and the oldest of these penguins was discovered in Aotearoa. Zealandia (ancient Aotearoa) fossil penguins are mainly known from Otago and Canterbury, although important finds have recently been made in Taranaki and Waikato.
In 2006, a group of schoolchildren on a Hamilton Junior Naturalist Club (JUNATS) fossil hunting excursion in Kawhia Harbor, led by club fossil expert Chris Templer, discovered the bones of a giant fossil penguin.
Researchers from Massey University and the Bruce Museum (Connecticut, USA) visited the Waikato Museum Te Whare Taonga o Waikato to analyze the fossil bones of the ancient penguin. The team used 3D scanning as part of their investigation and compared the fossil to digital versions of bones from around the world. The 3D scanning also allowed the team to produce a 3D printed replica of the fossil for naturalists at Hamilton Junior. The real penguin fossil was donated by the club to the Waikato Museum in 2017.
Dr Daniel Thomas, senior lecturer in zoology at the Massey School of Natural and Computer Sciences, says the fossil is between 27.3 and 34.6 million years old and dates from a time when much of the Waikato was underwater.
“The penguin is like the Kairuku giant penguins first described in Otago, but have much longer legs, which researchers have used to name the penguin waewaeroa – Te reo Māori for “long legs”. Those longer legs would have made the penguin much taller than the others Kairuku while walking on land, perhaps around 1.4 meters tall, and may have influenced the speed at which he could swim or the depth to which he could dive, ”says Dr Thomas.
“It was a real privilege to contribute to the history of this incredible penguin. We know how important this fossil is to so many people, ”he adds.
« Foot diver is iconic for so many reasons. The fossil penguin reminds us that we share Zealandia with incredible animal lines that go back a long way, and this sharing gives us an important guardianship role. How the fossil penguin was discovered by children exploring nature reminds us of the importance of encouraging future generations to become kaitiaki [guardians]. »
Mike Safey, president of the Hamilton Junior Naturalist Club, says it’s something affected children will remember for a lifetime.
“It was a rare privilege for the children in our club to have the opportunity to discover and save this huge penguin fossil. We always encourage young people to explore and enjoy the great outdoors. There are lots of cool stuff just waiting to be discovered.
Steffan Safey was there for the discovery and rescue missions. “It’s a bit surreal to know that a discovery we made when we were kids so many years ago contributes to academia today. And it’s even a new species! The existence of giant penguins in New Zealand is hardly known, so it’s really great to know that the community continues to study and learn more about them. Clearly, the day spent cutting it out of the sandstone was well spent!
Dr Esther Dale, a plant ecologist now living in Switzerland, was also in attendance.
“It’s pretty exciting to be involved in the discovery of such a large and relatively complete fossil, let alone a new species!” I can’t wait to see what we can learn about the evolution of penguins and life in New Zealand.
Alwyn Dale assisted in the recovery of the fossil. “It was definitely one of those kinda surreal things to look back on – an absolute time on my to-do list. After joining JUNATS, there were some pretty iconic stories of amazing discoveries and special experiences – and the excavation of a giant penguin fossil must be up there! A true testament to all the parents and volunteers who gave of their time and resources to create unique and formative memories for club members. “
Taly Matthews, a long-time member of the Hamilton Junior Naturalist Club, and who works for the Department of Conservation in Taranaki, says: “Finding a fossil is pretty exciting when you think about the time that has passed while this animal has been around. hidden. , embedded in the rock. Finding a giant penguin fossil, however, is on another level. As more and more giant penguin fossils are discovered, we are filling more and more gaps in the story. It’s very exciting. “
The research is detailed later in an article titled ‘A giant fossil penguin from the Oligocene of the North Island of New Zealand ‘, published today in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. The study describes Foot diver as a new species of fossil penguin and provides a more complete picture of the diversity of giant penguins.
Reference: “A giant fossil penguin from the Oligocene of the North Island of New Zealand” September 16, 2021, Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.
DOI : 10.1080/02724634.2021.1953047
The research was led by PhD student Simone Giovanardi, with Dr Daniel Ksepka, Bruce Museum and Dr Daniel Thomas, Massey University.