Antarctica is the Earth’s southernmost continent, home to up to 5,000 dedicated researchers who study Earth’s history and the effects of climate change in temperatures that drop as low as -90C. The number of animals that inhabit the icy continent is also scarce – with mites, nematodes, seals and rare birds being spotted and documented over the years. By far the most common creature remains found are from the penguin – of the 17 species recorded over the years, only the emperor and Adelie inhabit the region around-the-year.
However, the discovery of one extinct animal on Seymour Island left scientists shocked.
British Antarctic Survey Professor David Walton detailed how a team uncovered a species known as the Palaeeudyptes klekowskii that once towered more than six feet during an interview on BBC’s Radio 4 ‘In Our Time’.
He said: “As an ecologist, history is written in fossils.
“We know there were dinosaurs there and we know there were giant penguins too – six feet tall in fact.
“We reconstructed a penguin from a single metatarsal that was found – it is amazing what you can do with one bone.
“So we know it was a much more interesting continent previously.”
The unearthed bones dated back 37 million years and new studies show the species could have measured almost twice the height of today’s emperor penguins.
Carolina Acosta Hospitaleche of the La Plata Museum in Argentina estimated that the penguin would have weighed around 19 stone, which supposedly gave it the ability to stay underwater for longer.
In the ocean, penguins’ black backs camouflage the birds from both predator and prey swimming above.
Experts suspect the change in colour would affect the bird’s survival, though there are no studies to support the theory.
Although penguins have wings and feathers, they cannot fly instead, they have evolved into the most efficient swimmers and divers of all birds.
Some species spend 75 percent of their time at sea – the most of any birds.