PERU- A Peruvian student discovered a nearly 5-foot tall fossilized penguin with red feathers. ‘Pedro,’ who’s about 36 million years old and nearly twice as big as Emperor penguins, may provide insight and answers about today’s smaller penguins. – Global Animal

The Sydney Morning Herald

LONDON: Scientists have discovered the fossilised remains of an enormous red-feathered penguin that cast a long shadow across the shores of Peru 36 million years ago.

The fossil of the bird, which were discovered by a Peruvian student, Ali Altamirano, in the Paracas National Reserve on the country’s southern coast, could help explain how its modern descendants evolved.

The new species – known as Inkayacu paracasensis, or water king – was nearly 1.5 metres tall, making it twice the size of its largest living relative, the emperor penguin.

Its plumage was as distinctive as its stature. Feathers attached to the bird’s wing reveal that it would have been reddish-brown and grey in contrast with the black-and-white of living penguins.

After finding a patch of scaly, soft tissue preserved on one of the penguin’s flippers, the team nicknamed it Pedro, after the hero of a Colombian telenovela.

Pedro’s remains show that while the flipper and feather shapes that make penguins such excellent swimmers evolved early on, the colour patterning of modern penguins is likely to be a far more recent development.

Researchers established Pedro’s plumage colours by comparing its melanosomes – the tiny, pigment-carrying structures within cells – with those of living penguins.

In a paper published on the website of the journal Science, they report the fossil’s melanosomes were much smaller than those of its modern descendants. ”Before this fossil, we had no evidence about the feathers, colours and flipper shapes of ancient penguins,” the lead author, Julia Clarke of the University of Texas at Austin’s Jackson School of Geosciences, said.

”We had questions and this was our first chance to start answering them.”

She described the Paracas site as an extraordinary place that could still yield ”new discoveries that can change our view of not only penguin evolution, but of other marine vertebrates”.

http://www.smh.com.au/environment/the-big-red-one-pedro-the-ancient-penguin-20101001-16115.html

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