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article imageThe Penguins Who Preferred The Beach Life

By Michelle Duffy     Jun 26, 2007 in Science
Just when you thought that penguins could only be associated with the Arctic, snow and ice, then think again. Scientists have discovered a penguin creature who preferred the warmer climate of the tropics
Scientists have discovered the remains of a penguin who lived around 36 millions years ago in the strangest place you could ever find the fossil of such a creature - Peru.
The animal's fossil was found along the southern coast of the country, yet this creature would have dwarfed the regular Emperor penguins we know today.
This giant creature of the sea not only enjoyed the beach life to the icy conditions of the Artic but was around five foot tall. It could well be that the swimming genius was very much like penguins of today in colour and shape, yet just over-sized.
Yet there would have been one distinct difference - the beak of this ancestral bird was incredibly long and almost "spear-like." Not that far off the beak of a Heron or such.
It's official Latin name is "Icadyptes salasi" and would have certainly towered over it's distant future cousins, and a few of us no doubt! The well-preserved skeleton of this creature was found in Ica, in Peru as well as four more possible cousins bearing a similar resemblance to the modern day penguin. It appears that there were many different types of such a bird then, than there are now.
Climates millions of years ago were very much more severe as regards to temperature. Hot countries were hotter, and this particular bird would have loved that amount of heat.
So it is a a common faux par to expect the standard penguin to prefer the colder outdoors. The penguins we associate with the snow and ice of the Artic are actually a recent breed. Many penguins before came from parts of Africa.
Leading the research team was Dr Julia Clarke from the North Carolina State University in the US. She said of the different between penguins now and then,
"That was sort of a dominant hypothesis - that in fact penguins had only reached low latitude regions comparatively recently and after two major periods of cooling in Earth's history. One was around the Eocene-Oligocene about 34 million years ago; and more recently, post 15 million years ago - but in fact we find penguins there now in much warmer periods and much, much earlier."
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