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New fossil discovery reveals that penguins used to be way too big

Photo: David Tipling (Getty Images)

Penguins, as they are now, are good. They waddle adorably, have loving relationships, and are neither too big or too small for their place in our planet’s ecosystem. This was not always the case. Fossils of Crossvallia waiparensis—a prehistoric penguin—have been unearthed in New Zealand, and they show that, long in the past, the now-appropriately-sized birds used to be way too goddamned large.

As Mashable’s Caitlin Welsh writes, the discovery of Crossvallia waiparensis fossils has revealed that the towering beast, which was around “during the Paleocene, between 66 and 56 million years ago,” “was about 1.6 metres tall (5 feet, 3 inches” and “weighed between 70 and 80 kilograms (between 154 and 176lb).”


Canterbury Museum, close to the North Canterbury, New Zealand site where the Big Bird bones were found, helpfully illustrates what it would look like to hang out with one of these suckers through a 3D model of the penguin standing and a human woman that needs to be seen for yourself. Crossvallia waiparensis stands majestically still, painted white, as a CG person looks warily over at it. The camera can be spun around to investigate the model more closely, or to see if finding the proper hidden angle might make the scene spring to life, thus allowing us to watch the penguin chase the modern woman with outstretched wings and squawks like a furious trumpet.

Screenshot: Canterbury Museum

Aside from just showing the world a big old bird, the Crossvallia waiparensis fossils are significant in proving “the theory that early penguins were” really big, growing larger in the absence of big “marine reptiles” that “became extinct at about the same time as the dinosaurs did.” Thankfully, that was a long time ago. As anyone who’s watched penguins splashing around at the zoo knows, it’s a good thing that one of their huge ancestors isn’t around anymore—not because it would be really scary or anything, but because the incredible stink generated by even one penguin, magnified to match Crossvallia waiparensis’ size, is too horrifying a possibility to imagine.

[via Mashable]

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About the author

Reid McCarter

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Reid's a writer and editor who has appeared at GQ, Playboy, and Paste. He also co-created and writes for videogame sites Bullet Points Monthly and Digital Love Child.