What’s the largest penguin that ever lived? – Casey, age 6, Perth
Hello Casey, thanks for this nice query!
Immediately the biggest residing penguin is the emperor penguin, which lives in Antarctica and is about one metre tall. The appropriately named little penguin is the smallest, standing solely about as excessive as a ruler.
However penguins have swum in Earth’s oceans for greater than 62 million years – they usually weren’t all the time these sizes. Lengthy earlier than people walked the Earth, some penguins would have stood as tall as a grown-up individual.
Ian Duffy/Flickr, CC BY-NC
To know how penguins as soon as obtained so massive, we have to return to the very first ones.
The closest kinfolk of penguins immediately can truly fly by way of the air. These embrace petrels and the hovering albatrosses.
Ed Dunens/Flickr, CC BY-NC
Whereas waddling penguins may appear fairly totally different to those seabirds, they’re fairly alike in numerous methods. They share similarities of their skeletons, and each share distant kinfolk (nice, nice grandparents going again thousands and thousands of years) that flew within the air.
Penguins can’t fly within the air anymore. As an alternative, they “fly” by way of the water — and doing each properly isn’t an possibility.
For birds, water is so much tougher to fly by way of than air. However penguins have sure qualities that enable them to do that.
The wings of penguins are flippers. These are nice for transferring underwater, however not very useful for flying above it. Their heavy our bodies assist them dive additional and deeper to allow them to hunt for meals. However being heavier makes flying within the air troublesome.
Curious Children: do penguins fly underwater?
Whereas penguins’ distant kinfolk have been small seabirds, over a few years they gave up flight to develop into skilled swimmers. The larger they have been, and the stronger their bones, the higher they might dive.
As a result of penguins have heavier and stronger bones than air-flying birds, this implies their bones are much less prone to break. It additionally means we usually tend to discover them as fossils (what’s left behind from historical life) lengthy after they die.
The truth is, the bones of 1 type of big penguin (Kairuku waewaeroa) have been found by faculty kids.
Room to develop
The asteroid that worn out the dinosaurs (besides birds!) 66 million years in the past gave the distant kinfolk of penguins the right likelihood to go swimming.
Most of the animals that will have eaten them within the sea have been gone, which meant they might go underwater with out worrying about being eaten.
The oldest penguin bones we’ve got belonged to birds that lived only some million years after the asteroid hit, and are available from Aotearoa, or New Zealand. These are just like the bones of immediately’s penguins, so we predict penguins in all probability stopped flying within the air a while quickly after the asteroid occasion.
Glad 6ft: historical penguins have been as tall as folks. We have found the species that began the downsizing development
A few of these first penguins have been huge. One was the large Kumimanu biceae, which was in all probability 1.7 metres tall (the identical measurement as many human adults).
Kumimanu might have been one of many largest penguins ever. It in all probability weighed 100kg, whereas the emperor penguin weighs lower than half of that.
G Mayr/Senckenberg Analysis Institute, CC BY-ND
Whereas many huge penguins lived within the thousands and thousands of years after Kumimanu, the one penguin which will have been bigger was the large Palaeeudyptes klekowskii, which swam off the coast of Antarctica greater than 34 million years in the past. This penguin might have been two metres tall and weighed 115kg!.
As for what occurred to large penguins, they vanished about 15 million years in the past and nobody actually is aware of why. There are nonetheless many questions, however with extra fossil discoveries, we’d discover some solutions!
Simone Giovanardi (used with permission), CC BY-NC