Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Giant Penguin

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Giant Penguin

Article excerpt

Paleontologists have unearthed the first extinct penguin with preserved evidence of scales and feathers. The 36-million-year-old fossil from Peru shows the giant penguin's feathers were reddish brown and grey--distinct from the black tuxedoed look of living penguins.

The new species, Inkayacu paracasensis, or Water King, was nearly 1.5 m (5 ft.) tall or about twice the size of an Emperor penguin, the largest living penguin today.

"Before this fossil, we had no evidence about the feathers, colors, and flipper shapes of ancient penguins. We had questions and this was our first chance to start answering them," says Julia Clarke, paleontologist at The University of Texas at Austin's Jackson School of Geosciences and lead author of a paper on the discovery published in the journal Science.

The fossil shows that the flipper and feather shapes that make penguins such powerful swimmers evolved early, while the color patterning of living penguins is likely a much more recent innovation.

Like living penguins and unlike all other birds, Inkayacu s wing feathers were radically modified in shape, densely packed, and stacked on top of each other--forming stiff, narrow flippers. Its body feathers had broad shafts that, in living penguins, help streamline the body.

Bird feathers get some of their colors from the size, shape, and arrangement of nanoscale structures called melanosomes. Matthew Shawkey and Liliana D'Alba, coauthors at the University of Akron, compared melanosomes recovered from the fossil to their extensive library of those from living birds to reconstruct the colors of the fossil penguin's feathers.


Melanosomes in Inkayacu were similar to those in birds other than living penguins, allowing the researchers to deduce the colors they produced. …

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