Earth’s misplaced eighth continent, Zealandia, sank into the ocean between 50 and 35 million years in the past. At present, we all know the tiny fraction of it that is still above the waves as New Zealand.
However earlier than most of Zealandia disappeared – about 60 million years in the past – historical penguins walked upon the 2-million-square-mile continent (5.18 million sq. kilometres). The truth is, a current discovery has led scientists to conclude that each one modern-day penguins doubtless descended from Zealandia’s historical birds.
The newly recognized fossils of an extinct penguin species provide an important, beforehand lacking hyperlink between historical and fashionable penguins.
Final month, researchers introduced that they’d discovered a set of well-preserved Three-million-year-old fossils, together with a cranium and a wing bone, on New Zealand’s North Island. They recognized the bones as belonging to a beforehand unknown species of crested penguin, which they named Eudyptes atatu.
Above: Fossils of Eudyptes atatu present its key options, together with a narrower beak (prime left) than that of the modern-day Snares crested penguin (prime proper).
The discovering serves as “an vital clue that New Zealand might need been a biodiversity hotspot for seabirds for thousands and thousands of years,” Daniel Thomas, a zoologist at Massey College and the lead writer of the research, informed Enterprise Insider.
That is far longer than researchers beforehand realised; earlier research had solely dated the presence of crested penguins on New Zealand again about 7,000 years, Thomas mentioned. The brand new timeline suggests the area is the penguin’s probably fatherland.
“We suggest that New Zealand is prone to be the place the earliest ancestor to all crested penguins lived, and the place the ancestor of all penguins lived,” Thomas mentioned.
New Zealand is the ‘seabird capital of the world’
The phrase atatu comes from the Māori time period ata tū, which implies daybreak; Eudyptes refers to crested penguins – these with feathery yellow stripes above their eyes. There are between 4 and 7 species of them alive on Earth in the present day, relying on which taxonomist you ask.
New Zealand is house to 13 species of penguin for at the very least a part of the yr – essentially the most of any nation on Earth. Extra broadly, the island nation is taken into account the “seabird capital of the world,” based on its Division of Conservation. Greater than a 3rd of its 80 native seabird species aren’t discovered wherever else on this planet.
The fossils from the extinct E. atatu penguin have been discovered embedded in rock close to the coastal area of Taranaki. Native collectors found them first, then alerted researchers on the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.
After their evaluation discovered the fossils to be about Three million years outdated, the researchers in contrast the fossils to bones of different, residing crested penguin species.
They discovered that the traditional penguin was pretty just like modern-day crested penguins, although its beak was extra slender.
That is a clue it had a unique food plan than its fashionable cousins, most of whom survive primarily on small fish, krill, and crustaceans.
So E. atatu may both be an ancestor of some species of recent crested penguin, or it might be a sister species that shares a standard ancestor.
The researchers fed the knowledge from their evaluation right into a software program program that makes use of information about fossils and different info to map species’ probably origin factors and migration patterns. That simulation is what led them to conclude that each one fashionable penguins doubtless descended from the identical Zealandia-dwelling ancestor.
Historic penguins roamed the misplaced continent of Zealandia
E. atatu lived in New Zealand tens of thousands and thousands of years after the remainder of Zealandia sank. However the researchers assume its ancestor developed about 60 million years in the past, suggesting that penguins doubtless as soon as wandered the continent whereas the remainder of its floor lay above sea stage.
These historical penguins might have been gigantic. In 2017, researchers discovered that prehistoric “mega-penguins” stood 5 ft eight inches tall and weighed 220 kilos.
The vast majority of Zealandia, which is about half the dimensions of Australia, now sits Three,500 ft (1,066 metres) underneath the ocean. Along with mega-penguins, the continent was as soon as doubtless house to dinosaurs and luxurious rainforest.
This text was initially printed by Enterprise Insider.
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