There are many advantages to being alive today, but there is one disadvantage—we missed out on seeing the best animal ever. Thirty-seven million years ago, the oceans and land were patrolled by a 6’8” penguin.
Today, Antarctic penguins are struggling. Thirty-seven million years ago, life was good. The coast of the continent was home to many different species of penguin, some of which would look familiar to us today. Others, not so much.
One penguin in particular would make us look twice—and possibly run. Palaeeudyptes klekowskii was sized up as the result of two different finds. Neither was a complete skeleton, but both provided multiple wing bones and foot bones that allowed scientists to estimate the penguin’s size.
Assuming it had the same proportions as modern penguins, this extinct megapenguin was a little over six-and-a-half feet tall. Before the discovery, the largest penguin species to ever have existed was thought to be only about five feet tall, just a foot taller than the Emperor penguin. Palaeeudyptes klekowskii would have stood out, even among the other penguins waddling around with it in its own time. It also would have dived down lower than other penguins, or at least stayed underwater longer. A larger body means a larger lung capacity, so these penguins would probably have been able to stay under water for 40 minutes between breaths. Imagine a basketball-player-sized penguin coming at you from out of the darkness.
Tom Image: Hannes Grobe/AWI, Creative Commons. Second Image: Christopher Michel.