Ancient Eggs from the Little Blue Penguin
A first report from New Zealand – a few days ago, we visited the University of Auckland collections and saw some North Island penguin fossils. One of the neatest specimens is a beautifully preserved egg. Nearly completely intact, this small egg is from Wanbrow, New Zealand. Wanbrow fossils are very important to the study of modern penguins, because they are the oldest known bones from species that are still alive today. Fossils from the site have been dated at 110,000 to 130,000 years old.
Two types of penguins are found at the site: Megadyptes antipodes (Yellow-eyed Penguin) and Eudyptula minor (Little Blue Penguin). Both occur in the Otago region today, so we can be confident these species have been inhabiting the area for quite some time. The egg adds some additional insight, demonstrating Little Blues were also breeding at Wanbrow in the Pleistocene.
A fossil bird egg is an exquisite object, so delicate and seemingly still full of life. The fossil egg is still whitish in color, having not undergone much chemical staining, and is filled with consolidated bits of sand and rock. An x-ray was taken after it was found, but no bones are preserved within. Because a large part of the egg is broken away, it is possible the occupant had already hatched out before the egg was buried.
Reference: Worthy, T.H., and J.A. Grant-Mackie. 2003. Late- Pleistocene avifaunas from Cape Wanbrow, Otago, South Island, New Zealand. Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand 33: 427–485.