About us

Newsroom

To overview

12/12/2017 - Ancient Bird in an Oversized Tuxedo

Frankfurt, 12/12/2017. Together with a team from New Zealand, Senckenberg scientist Dr. Gerald Mayr described a hitherto unknown fossil giant penguin species. The excavated bones indicate that the penguin stood over 1.7 meters tall in life and reached a body weight of approx. 100 kilograms. In their study, published today in the scientific journal “Nature Communications,” the researchers show that throughout geological history, “gigantism” was not a rare occurrence in early penguins and probably developed as a result of the birds’ flightlessness.

Artististic reconstruction of Kumimanu biceae in size comparison to a human diver.  © Senckenberg
Artististic reconstruction of Kumimanu biceae
in size comparison to a human diver. © Senckenberg

In the Maori language, Kumi means “monster” and manu is the word for “bird” – thus, it can already be deduced from the newly discovered fossil penguin’s scientific name that this involves no ordinary discovery.

“We examined the wing and leg bones of this penguin and quickly realized that we were looking at a previously unknown species,” explains Dr. Gerald Mayr of the Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt, and he continues, “The size of the bones indicates that this species stood over 1.7 meters tall and weighed more than 100 kilograms.”

The new discovery thus counts among the largest fossil penguin species, only surpassed in body size by a fossil species from Antarctica, which, however, is only known from very fragmented remains.

The partly prepared skeleton of the Paleocene giant penguin Kumimanu biceae. The rectangles emphasize the humerus and a bone from the shoulder girdle (coracoid), which are shown separated from the original bone cluster. © Senckenberg
The partly prepared skeleton of the Paleocene giant penguin
Kumimanu biceae. The rectangles emphasize the humerus
and a bone from the shoulder girdle (coracoid), which
are shown separated from the original bone cluster.
© Senckenberg

The giant penguin’s fossilized remnants were found in the Otago region on New Zealand’s South Island. “Age datings reveal that the bird lived during the Late Paleocene, i.e., about 59 to 56 million years ago,” explains Mayr, and he adds, “The fossils are therefore among the oldest known penguin remains, and it is remarkable that even these early forms reached such an enormous size.” 

In the study, the ornithologist from Frankfurt and his colleagues from New Zealand further demonstrate that phylogenetically, the new discovery represents a rather archaic species, which is clearly differentiated from the giant penguins known to date from the geologically younger epochs of the Eocene and Oligocene. “Kumimanu shows that gigantism was not rare among early penguins, even at the earliest stage of their evolution,” adds Mayr.

The humerus (top) and a bone from the shoulder girdle (coracoid, bottom) of the Paleocene giant penguin Kumimanu biceae, compared to the corresponding bones of one of the largest fossil penguins known to date (Pachydyptes ponderosus from the Eocene in New Zealand) and those of an Emperor Penguin (Aptendodytes forsteri).  © Senckenberg
The humerus (top) and a bone from the shoulder girdle
(coracoid, bottom) of the Paleocene giant penguin
Kumimanu biceae, compared to the corresponding
bones of one of the largest fossil penguins known to date
(Pachydyptes ponderosus from the Eocene in New Zealand)
and those of an Emperor Penguin (Aptendodytes forsteri).
© Senckenberg

The scientists assume that this gigantism developed as a result of the seabirds’ flightlessness. This raises the question why no penguin giants are alive today. The researchers offer the following hypothesis: “Giant penguins developed shortly after the mass extinction near the end of the Cretaceous, approx. 66 million years ago. It is possible that the disappearance of large marine reptiles enabled the penguins to explore new ecological niches. However, with the subsequent appearance of other large marine predators such as seals and toothed whales, the penguins faced new competition and predation – which may have led to their extinction.” The Senckenberg scientist and his colleagues now hope for additional discoveries that can shed light on this and other new questions.    

Contact
Dr. Gerald Mayr
Senckenberg Forschungsinstitut und Naturmuseum Frankfurt
Ornithology Section
Phone: 069- 7542 1348
Gerald.Mayr@senckenberg.de

Judith Jördens
Press Office
Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung
Phone: 069- 7542 1434
pressestelle@senckenberg.de

Publication
Gerald Mayr, R. Paul Scofield, Vanesa L. De Pietri & Alan J.D. Tennyson (2017): A Paleocene penguin from New Zealand substantiates multiple origins of gigantism in fossil Sphenisciformes. NATURE COMMUNICATIONS 8: DOI: 10.1038/s41467-017-01959-6 |www.nature.com/naturecommunications

To study and understand nature with its unlimited diversity of living creatures and to preserve and manage it in a sustainable fashion as the basis of life for future generations – that has been the goal of the Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung (Senckenberg Nature Research Society) for almost 200 years. This integrative “geobiodiversity research” and the dissemination of research and science are among Senckenberg’s primary tasks. Three nature museums in Frankfurt, Görlitz and Dresden display the diversity of life and the earth’s development over millions of years. The Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung is a member of the Leibniz Association. The Senckenberg Nature Museum in Frankfurt is supported by the City of Frankfurt am Main as well as numerous other partners. Additional information can be found atwww.senckenberg.de

200 years of Senckenberg! 2017 marks Senckenberg’s anniversary year. For 200 years, the society, which was founded in 1817, has dedicated itself to nature research with curiosity, passion and involvement. Senckenberg will celebrate its 200-year success story with a colorful program consisting of numerous events, specially designed exhibitions and a grand museum party in the fall. Of course, the program also involves the presentation of current research and future projects. Additional information is available

Press contact

Dr. Sören Dürr
Tel.: 069 7542-1580

Alexandra Donecker
Tel.: 069 7542-1561
Mobil: 0152-0923 1133

Judith Jördens
Tel.: 069 7542-1434
Mobil: 0172-5842340

Email: pressestelle@senckenberg.de

Senckenberg
Forschungsinstitut und Naturmuseum
Senckenberganlage 25
60325 Frankfurt

 

19/01/2018 09:50:07


18/01/2018 12:30:27


18/01/2018 08:00:23



https://die-welt-baut-ihr-museum.de/en