The bones were collected in 1977 by Dr. Ewan Fordyce, a paleontologist from the University of Otago, New Zealand. In 2009 and 2011, Dr. Dan Ksepka, North Carolina State University research assistant professor of marine, earth and atmospheric sciences and North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences colleague Dr. Paul Brinkman traveled to New Zealand to aid in the reconstruction of the giant penguin fossil.
Kairuku was one of at least five different species of penguin that lived in New Zealand during the same period. The diversity of species is part of what made the reconstruction difficult, and the penguin’s unique physique added to the difficulty.
“Kairuku was an elegant bird by penguin standards, with a slender body and long flippers, but short, thick legs and feet,” says Ksepka. “If we had done a reconstruction by extrapolating from the length of its flippers, it would have stood over 6 feet tall. In reality, Kairuku was around 4-feet-2 inches tall or so.”
The researchers reconstructed Kairuku from two separate fossils, using the skeleton of an existing king penguin as a model. The result is a tall bird with an elongated beak and long flippers – easily the largest of the five species that were common to the area in that time period.
Their results appear in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.
New Zealand has a history of producing exceptional fossils that give important insights into the history of penguins and other marine creatures. Ksepka hopes that the reconstruction of Kairuku will give other paleontologists more information about some the other fossils found in that area as well as add to the knowledge about giant penguin species. “This species gives us a more complete picture of these giant penguins generally, and may help us to determine how great their range was during the Oligocene period.”
Ksepka’s research was funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation and support from the University of Otago. Ksepka has a research appointment at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. The Department of Marine, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences is part of the College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences.
Note to editors: An abstract of the paper follows.
“New Fossil Penguins (Aves, Sphenisciformes) from the Oligocene of New Zealand Reveal the Skeletal Plan of Stem Penguins”Authors: Daniel T. Ksepka, North Carolina State University and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences; R. Ewan Fordyce, Tatsuro Ando, Craig M. Jones, University of Otago, New Zealand, et al.
Published: Feb. 27, 2012, in the Journal of Vertebrate PaleontologyAbstract: Three skeletons collected from the late Oligocene Kokoamu Greensand of New Zealand are among the most complete Paleogene penguins known. These specimens, described here as Kairuku waitaki, gen. et sp. nov., and Kairuku grebneffi, sp. nov., reveal new details of key elements of the stem penguin skeleton associated with underwater flight, including the sternum, flipper, and pygostyle. Relative proportions of the trunk, flippers, and hind limbs can now be determined from a single individual for the first time, offering insight into the body plan of stem penguins and improved constraints on size estimates for ‘giant’ taxa. Kairuku is characterized by an elongate, narrow sternum, a short and flared coracoid, an elongate narrow flipper, and a robust hind limb. The pygostyle of Kairuku lacks the derived triangular cross-section seen in extant penguins, suggesting that the rectrices attached in a more typical avian pattern and the tail may have lacked the propping function utilized by living penguins. New materials described here, along with re-study of previously described specimens, resolve several long-standing phylogenetic, biogeographic, and taxonomic issues stemming from the inadequate comparative material of several of the first-named fossil penguin species. An array of partial associated skeletons from the Eocene–Oligocene of New
Zealand historically referred to Palaeeudyptes antarcticus or Palaeeudyptes sp. are recognized as at least five distinct species: Palaeeudyptes antarcticus, Palaeeudyptes marplesi, Kairuku waitaki, Kairuku grebneffi, and an unnamed Burnside Formation species.
Tracey Peake | Newswise Science News
Stagnation in the South Pacific Explains Natural CO2 Fluctuations
23.02.2018 | Carl von Ossietzky-Universität Oldenburg
First evidence of surprising ocean warming around Galápagos corals
22.02.2018 | University of Arizona
A newly developed laser technology has enabled physicists in the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics (jointly run by LMU Munich and the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics) to generate attosecond bursts of high-energy photons of unprecedented intensity. This has made it possible to observe the interaction of multiple photons in a single such pulse with electrons in the inner orbital shell of an atom.
In order to observe the ultrafast electron motion in the inner shells of atoms with short light pulses, the pulses must not only be ultrashort, but very...
A group of researchers led by Andrea Cavalleri at the Max Planck Institute for Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) in Hamburg has demonstrated a new method enabling precise measurements of the interatomic forces that hold crystalline solids together. The paper Probing the Interatomic Potential of Solids by Strong-Field Nonlinear Phononics, published online in Nature, explains how a terahertz-frequency laser pulse can drive very large deformations of the crystal.
By measuring the highly unusual atomic trajectories under extreme electromagnetic transients, the MPSD group could reconstruct how rigid the atomic bonds are...
Quantum computers may one day solve algorithmic problems which even the biggest supercomputers today can’t manage. But how do you test a quantum computer to...
For the first time, a team of researchers at the Max-Planck Institute (MPI) for Polymer Research in Mainz, Germany, has succeeded in making an integrated circuit (IC) from just a monolayer of a semiconducting polymer via a bottom-up, self-assembly approach.
In the self-assembly process, the semiconducting polymer arranges itself into an ordered monolayer in a transistor. The transistors are binary switches used...
Breakthrough provides a new concept of the design of molecular motors, sensors and electricity generators at nanoscale
Researchers from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the CAS (IOCB Prague), Institute of Physics of the CAS (IP CAS) and Palacký University...
15.02.2018 | Event News
13.02.2018 | Event News
12.02.2018 | Event News
23.02.2018 | Physics and Astronomy
23.02.2018 | Health and Medicine
23.02.2018 | Physics and Astronomy