Argentine scientists have identified the nearly-complete skull of a giant penguin which they believe inhabited Antarctica around 35 million years ago, according to the National University of La Matanza’s Agency of Science, Technology and Society.
The prehistoric species, which could grow up to 1.7 metres in size, was named Anthropornis grandis, meaning “man-sized bird” by researchers in 1905.
But, according to Carolina Acosta Hospitaleche, a researcher for the Museum of La Plata, this is “the first time a skull found in Antarctica can be assigned to a specific species.”
The remains were collected in 2014 during an expedition on Marambio Island, also called Seymour Island, where Argentina has its largest Antarctic base.
A key to the past
With these remains, scientists were able to determine the species and now hope to establish a more precise understanding of the flightless bird’s movements and habits.
“Thanks to the analysis of its muscle structures and of the movements it would’ve been able to make, it's estimated that this animal would have used its large beak to harpoon its prey,” saud Acosta Hospitaleche.
The length of its beak also suggests that fish were its main victims, she added.
In addition to the skull, the remains of the tarsal and metatarsal of the penguin’s left foot were also found, which were fundamental in the identification of the species.
“Not only did we describe the remains we found, but we also performed paleoneurological studies to see which areas of the animal’s brain had a greater proportional development, and thus, which of its abilities were the most developed,” indicated the scientist.
Big – but not the biggest
While this penguin was veritably massive, the largest penguin specimen ever recorded is the Palaeeudyptes klekowskii, which could grow up to a massive 2.30 metres in size and which, according to scientists, also inhabited the east coast of Marambio (Seymour) Island, in the Weddell Sea, during the middle Eocene Epoch.
For comparison, the largest living penguin species, the emperor penguin, typically stands at 1.2 metres tall and an average human male at 1.72 metres tall.