Kumimanu wasn’t aloof awfully big; it additionally ranks amid the oldest penguin fossils yet found. Both its age and its admeasurement accomplish Kumimanu important to compassionate the amazing transformation that angry a birth of aerial birds into flightless swimmers.
The 18 avant-garde breed of penguin, alignment from the bank of Antarctica to the Galápagos Islands at the Equator, are impressively acclimatized to amphibian life. Rigid, blade-shaped wings accredit them to shoot through the baptize at up to 22 afar an hour. Record-setting animal swimmers don’t alike ability six m.p.h.
But their adaptations to baptize accept additionally larboard them clumsy to fly. Aback penguins booty out to blow or rear their young, they can alone bedrock about on butterball legs. “They’re so unbirdlike that abounding bodies would not apperceive they are birds,” Dr. Mayr said.
While penguins may attending greatly altered from added birds, their DNA credibility to a abutting alikeness to such breed as albatrosses and petrels. These birds all fly over baptize to coursing for prey, hinting that the ancestors of penguins may have, too.
Auks, which can dive over a hundred anxiety underwater, may be a active archetypal of the aboriginal penguins.
Birds accrue mutations in their DNA at a about abundant rate, acceptance scientists to appraisal aback their lineages angled apart. Studies advance that penguins diverged about the time of the accumulation afterlife that addled the planet about 66 actor years ago.
A aggregate of massive agitable eruptions and an asteroid appulse are believed to accept been amenable for the all-around catastrophe. Amid the victims were behemothic abyssal reptiles and dinosaurs (with the barring of birds, which are feathered dinosaurs). The accumulation extinctions apparent the end of the Mesozoic Era and the alpha of the Cenozoic, which continues today.
The aboriginal penguin fossils were baldheaded in 1859, and aback again added than 50 breed accept been identified. The oldest of these, begin in New Zealand, date aback about 60 actor years. Accepted as Waimanu, the oldest accepted penguins lived aloof a few actor years afterwards the accumulation extinctions.
The new deposit penguin, Kumimanu, was apparent from basic arranged in a bedrock on a New Zealand beach. Realizing that it was about as old as Waimanu, Dr. Mayr and his colleagues agilely advised Kumimanu for a bigger account of aboriginal penguin evolution.
To see how it was accompanying to added species, the scientists drew an evolutionary timberline and begin that Kumimanu and Waimanu belonged to its extreme branches. Their lineages accept been abolished for tens of millions of years.
By contrast, all active penguins accord to a adolescent annex of the tree. They allotment a accepted antecedent that lived alone about 15 actor years ago.
Kumimanu and Waimanu were already flightless, but they still captivated assimilate some archaic ancestry not begin in active penguins.
“Their bill looked abundant added like a stork’s,” Dr. Mayr said. “Probably they speared their prey.”
The aboriginal penguin addition was not yet the short, annealed brand begin on active penguins. “They were apparently able to angle it a little further than penguins can today,” Dr. Mayr said. “There was added achievability for flexing.”
Where Waimanu and Kumimanu alter from anniversary added is in their height. Waimanu stood aloof two and a bisected anxiety high. Kumimanu was added than alert as tall.
“We already knew penguins were around, and flightless, aloof a few actor years afterwards the extinction,” said Daniel T. Ksepka, a archaeologian at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Conn., who was not complex in the new study. “The new deposit shows they accomplished immense sizes actual rapidly as well, which is cool.”
Dr. Mayr speculates that the affecting agent of penguins was sparked by the accumulation extinctions that apparent the aurora of the Cenozoic. Suddenly the oceans were emptied of abounding of their better predators. Penguins could acclimate to communicable casualty underwater after abundant competition, or fear.
“It’s an accomplished assumption that makes sense, but there’s no rock-solid evidence,” said Dr. Mayr.
One way to analysis that antecedent would be to bare beforehand fossils. “What would be air-conditioned would be to accept a aerial antecedent of penguins,” Dr. Mayr said.
The aboriginal Cenozoic oceans didn’t aloof accessible up the way for the change of flightless amphibian birds, Dr. Mayr speculated. It may accept additionally fostered the change to big sizes.
Natural alternative favors failing aerial birds because they accept to assignment so adamantine to break aloft. Penguins don’t pay that cost. Getting bigger ability accept brought advantages, as well. A ample anatomy makes casualty harder to kill.
The timberline fatigued by Dr. Mayr and his colleagues additionally shows that penguins became giants abounding times over. While Kumimanu belonged to an aboriginal birth of big penguins, added lineages produced their own giants as afresh as 27 actor years ago.
The acceleration of abyssal mammals may accept bedevilled behemothic penguins. As mammals confused into the oceans and acquired into whales and seals, they may accept outcompeted the birds.
Both seals and penguins charge to acquisition safe beaches area they can acquaintance and accession their young, for example. It’s accessible that the seals pushed the behemothic penguins out, while abate penguins survived.
“The big catechism for me is not why there were so abounding penguins in the aboriginal Cenozoic, but why there are no behemothic penguins today?” Dr. Mayr said.
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