Ancient New Zealand has been a site of large bizarre bird species from the largest know parrot on Earth to two-meter-high flightless Moa. But now researchers have added a long-legged penguin to this category, whose fossil was found by a group of kids from the junior naturalist club.
In January 2006, a group of children in a summer camp in Waikato, New Zealand, were on a fossil hunting trip and assumed that they would find some common fossils of shellfish but found an unusual fossil which on glance appeared as prehistoric crustaceans.
Afterward, it was identified as a fossilized skeleton of a giant penguin by an archaeologist. The study, recently published in the Journal of Vertebrate Palaeontology by Massey University students claims that the new species of prehistoric giant penguins are helping in closing the loopholes in natural history.
The record dating of these species is of the age of Dinosaurs. Mike Safey, president of the Hamilton Naturalist Club said,
“Finding Fossils near our home reminds us of the fact that we share this environment with animals who are descendants of lineages that went back in time. We should realize our duty and act as kaitiaki-guardian- for these descendants if we want to see these lineages continue in future.”
After about months of the discovery, the team returned to the location with types of equipment like petrol-powered concrete saws, electrical jackhammers, chisels, and crowbars, and the children and adults spent the whole day cutting the fossils out of the sandstones.
Afterward, they donated this fossil to the Waikato Museum, Te Whare Taonga O Waikato, and the researchers from Massey University and Bruce Museum started to investigate that fossil, reports TheGuardian.
The conclusion consistent with Daniel Thomas, a senior lecturer in Zoology at Massey’s School of Natural and Computational Sciences, is that the penguin is between 27.3million to 34.6million years old from a time where most of the Waikato was underwater.
Daniel Thomas said, “the penguin is similar to Kairuku giant penguin but has much longer legs, that is why it is called waewaeroa, which is Maori for long-legs.”
These species have about 1.4m long legs and affect their speed of swimming and deep diving. As per Mike Safey,
“Giant penguins like Kairuku waewaeroa are larger than diving seabirds today, and body size are often an enormous factor when thinking of ecology. Questions like why and how did these penguins become giant and why aren’t they left today could be answerable with the help of these studies.”
Safey was himself 13 at the time when these fossils were found and he said, “it is a sort of surreal to know that the discovery we made as kids is contributing to academic today it is even a new species.”
Discovering that this fossil penguin is a new species is a rewarding thing for the children of Hamilton Nature Club today, and such things inspire young people to stay connected with nature.