March of the Fossil Penguins

Fossil penguin discoveries and research

Walking on Seashells (and Penguins)

with 3 comments

The latest stop on our search for penguins takes us to the Otekaike Limestone.  This unit spans the Oligocene-Miocene boundary, with fossils dating to about 25 million years ago.  Shells abound in the Otekaike Limestone – it is almost like walking along a never-ending high tide line after a storm.

Walking on shells – it is literally impossible not to step on them!

Today’s trip yielded a few bits of penguin bone, including the base of a flipper and, more importantly from a scientific perspective, a whale skull bone.  Each piece brings us closer to understanding what these extinct species were like.  Even though the Otekaike Limestone is only a few million years younger than the Kokoamu Greensand, the penguins are much smaller and more modern looking.  Comparing fossils from the two Formations is like viewing two frames of a film on penguin evolution, one taken a few moments after the other.  Lots of other frames are missing, but the movie is still showing today in New Zealand, Antarctica, and everywhere else living penguins thrive.

Sample of the shelly fauna. A: Zealcolpus, a turret-shell gastropod, B: another gastropod, probably Alcithoe, C: Lentipecten, a scallop, D: Cucullaea, an ark shell bivalve, E: Waipairia, a brachiopod.

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Written by Dan Ksepka

December 17, 2011 at 12:08 am

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  1. I found this blog through the NC Museum of Natural Sciences website, and I didn’t even know there were fossil penguins until today! I love visiting the Museum and seeing all their great exhibits whenever I go to Raleigh, but I had no idea there was international research like this taking place behind the scenes! It’s great to know there are talented young scientists like Dr. Keskpa and Dr. Brickman leading expeditions and bringing their exciting new discoveries back to North Carolina. I remember when the museum was still in the little old building and now we have world-class scientists working there! Wow! Thanks for sharing your travels with us, and I look forward to reading all about your new finds!

    Lori W.

    December 17, 2011 at 9:31 pm

  2. Thank you Lori, we appreciate your comments. There is a lot more going on at the museum and university too, but this blog is penguins only! I’d suggest you take a look at Dr. Brinkman’s book “The Second Jurassic Dinosaur Rush” if you are in the mood for a hearty dose of dinosaur paleontology:

    http://www.press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/S/bo8693193.html

    Dan Ksepka

    December 21, 2011 at 1:40 pm

  3. Thanks for the book recommendation! My husband and I will be sure to check it out from the library.

    Lori W.

    December 21, 2011 at 8:40 pm


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