I just watched the episode of Cosmos where Neil deGrasse Tyson talks about an epoch before they were trees, in which Earth’s air was far more saturated with oxygen than it is now and thus, insects grew to be absolutely massive. Eight-foot-long millipedes? Yeah, no thanks. He didn’t mention spiders in the episode, but I can only imagine what those were like. The more we learn about the past, the more we learn about the strange and freaky creatures that used to rule the planet. Luckily, not all of them are as nightmare-inducing as giant insects, although I can’t say that the giant penguins paleontologists now believe existed 37-40 million years ago are exactly cuddly.
Scientists found the remains of the Palaeeudyptes klekowskii species of penguin on Seymour Island, off the coast of Antarctica, and published their findings in ScienceDirect. The ancient species once stood about 6.6 feet tall, dwarfing the emperor penguin, which is the biggest species today, and only reaches about 4 feet tall. The fossil remains of the colossus penguin demonstrate its impressive size—its tarsometatarsus bone, which is the joint between the ankle and the foot, is the one that most accurately indicates size. At 3.6 inches, it’s the largest such bone ever recorded for penguins, leading to the calculations that the penguins stood at well over 6 feet with their beaks pointed upward, and well over 5 feet from head to toe. Oh, they also weighed in at around 250 pounds.
Researchers believe that that region of Antarctica was quite a bit warmer 40 million years ago, and that penguins thrived there in numbers far greater than they do today, with perhaps 10-14 different species living together. They think the colossus penguin ate fish and was a particularly effective diver, able to stay under the water for upwards of 40 minutes.
Previous giant penguin findings indicate that the birds migrated as far as the Peruvian desert, far away from their modern icy habitats. If only this penguin were still around it could have migrated to California for an appearance at Comic Con, saving Benedict Cumberbatch the trouble of posing with an enormous stuffed animal.