Penguins, so adorable them. They were not always the size of now. Before they measured around 1.80 meters. They are known to have lived in Antarctica. That is why, until now, remains of them appear from many millions of years ago. Like the petrified skin of a penguin, which has just been revealed.
43 million years ago
Argentine researchers have just announced the discovery of the petrified skin of a penguin. It inhabited Antarctica approximately 43 million years ago. The finding is published this week in Lethaia magazine. It bears the title of First Neornithes fossil skin of a giant penguin from Antarctica.
It was discovered in 2014 by Sergio Santillana. It is from the Argentine Antarctic Institute. The fossil of the animal, which according to the researchers measured up to 1.8 meters in height, belonged to the wing of a specimen of Palaeeudyptes gunnari. It is one of several extinct species of penguins that populated Antarctica during the Eocene. We are talking about between 56 and 34 million years ago, when the southernmost continent of our planet was not covered in snow and ice. It was covered by forests in which a diverse fauna developed. It was in this favorable environment for the development of plant and animal biodiversity that the first penguins appeared. This happened about 60 million years ago. And gradually they became the most numerous and cold-adapted shorebirds we know today.
They were already protecting themselves from the cold
It is the only wing described for this species. It also represents the first record of a Neornithine bird – the oldest modern birds – of which the petrified skin is preserved in three dimensions. The specimen is also in perfect condition. The skin has been preserved on both parts of the wing. The team of scientists led by Carolina Acosta Hospitaleche, a researcher at CONICET and the Faculty of Natural Sciences and Museum of the National University of La Plata, has been able to verify the arrangement of the follicles in which the feathers were inserted.
This fossilized skin can be compared with today's current species of penguins. For example, the emperor penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri). This shows that Palaeeudyptes gunnari it already had adaptations to protect itself from the cold. Its plumage was less dense than that developed by modern penguins. But it shows that the early acquisition of characters linked to adaptation to extreme cold would have been key to the success achieved by this group during the Eocene.
And you, can you imagine what it would be like to find yourself face to face with a penguin the size of an adult man? Certainly touching.