Water King Penguin: A Prehistoric Penguin
Larger than the Emperor Penguin
The largest penguin alive today is the Emperor Penguin. Up until 2010, they were believed to be the largest penguins to have ever walked this earth. Recently, scientists have uncovered a new species of penguin that is twice the size of an Emperor Penguin and stood 5 feet tall! They have been dubbed the Water King Penguin, not to be confused with the King Penguin, which is still alive today.
The Water King Penguin, known to the scientific world as Inkayacu Paracasensis, was discovered in Peru and believed to have lived during prehistoric times. A rare discovery was found when they uncovered fossilized feathers showing that this great creature was a mix of reddish brown and gray. It was through research of these prehistoric penguins that scientists learned more about modern penguins.
This ancient penguin was originally discovered on a desert in Peru in 2007. Although it took until 2010 to report the findings.This great find was actually an accidental discovery of a student of the Museo de Historia Natural in Lima (Museum of Natural History). Imagine the great joy of this student as he unearths a mystery, before he has even become a full-fledged paleontologist: a dream come true! His original discovery was of a foot of the bird that had scales. Scales being preserved is a rare and magnificent find!
There actually were two other giant penguins also discovered in this same area, although the King Water Penguin was by far the largest measuring the same height as many adult humans at five feet. The Emperor Penguin measures only 4 feet.
It is not the size of the Water King Penguin that captured so many scientists attention, but it was its unique feathers. This was the first time preserved feathers from prehistoric penguins had ever been discovered. They also have preserved scales from the bottom of these penguins feet as well.
Aside from the unique color of the fossilized feathers, scientists discovered some other fascinating information about how penguins became such great swimmers.They not only were able to uncover feathers from the flipper, but also from the body. One excavator was fortunate enough to find a fossilized flipper that had both types of feathers attached. At first glance, the feathers appeared to be just like the feathers of today's penguins. Today's penguins have flipper feathers that are densely stacked that allow the flipper to be stiff. This allows it to move very quickly through the water, changing directions and maneuvering very easily. Although the water king penguins feathers were structurally the same, the composition of the feather's DNA was different. More specifically the makeup of it that usually pertains more to color than to ability of the feather that allows the birds to be such excellent swimmers.
Discovering The Water King's Coloring
Some of you may have wondered how in the world they were able to determine the color of the water penguin. Aren't all fossils gray? Well, yes, but they were able to discover the color of the water king's feathers due to traces of melanosomes that can be found in fossils. For instance, our skin has melanin, so if you have ever heard there are many colors of humans, black, white, red, well, that's not true. We are all the same color and that is melanin, it's just some of us have an abundant of melanin and have very dark skin, whereas pasty folks like myself, lack melanin. Well, melanosomes can determine what color the fossil would have been. By comparing the malanosomes in many different creatures it was determined that the King Water penguin had a mix of reddish brown and gray feathers.
Although this in and of itself does not seem particularly unusual, it's the way these melanosomes presented themselves in the DNA of the King Water feather. It is believed that the dark black tuxedo look of modern penguins has more to do with swimming prowess than sex or camouflage as previously believed. Penguin's melanosomes usually are grape-like, whereas most other birds melanosomes are not. The King Water penguin's melanosomes were more like that of other birds. Now you may wonder how this would pertain to its ability to swim, but really it's quite related.
Melanin, the coloring product found in melanosomes, help protect the feather from breakage. Those of modern penguins had more grape-like melanin and therefore, were less likely to break than those of the King Water Penguin and other birds. This may have caused the demise of the King Water Penguin since it was not as adept at swimming or as many scientists believe, the King Water Penguin's feathers began to evolve to allow for better swimming producing the modern penguin.
- "The Water King -A Prehistoric Penguin as Tall as a Human Discovered." The Daily Galaxy --Great Discoveries Channel. Accessed February 27, 2018. http://www.dailygalaxy.com/my_weblog/2010/10/the-water-king-a-prehistoric-penguin-as-tall-as-a-human-discovered.html.
© 2010 Angela Michelle Schultz