March of the Fossil Penguins

Fossil penguin discoveries and research

An ancient penguin skull

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January 20th is Penguin Awareness Day (one of two annual penguin themed holidays, the other being World Penguin Day on April 25th). To celebrate, why not take a look at a 3D model of one of the world’s most ancient penguin skulls?

Sequiwaimanu rosieae is one of the oldest penguins ever discovered. A team led by Dr. Gerald Mayr described the species in 2018. It was found in the Waipara Greensand, just 15m about the level that yielded the current record holder, Waimanu manneringi.  Indeed the genus name Sequiwaimanu means quite literally “to follow Waimanu”. The species name honors the late Rosemary (‘Rosie’) Ann Goord, the wife of the owner of the land where the fossil was collected. One of the things that makes Sequiwaimanu rosieae so important is that nearly the entire skull is preserved. Like man younger fossil penguins, Sequiwaimanu rosieae had a long, spear-like beak. This is perhaps the biggest difference between ancient penguins from the Paleogene (23-66 million years ago) and the present day. Those long beaks suggest a different style of feeding, and likely a preference for larger prey. Many Paleogene penguins reached gigantic sizes. Sequiwaimanu rosieae was about the size of a modern King Penguin, large by present-day standards but fairly moderate in size for its time.

I had the pleasure of seeing this beautiful fossil first hand about a year and a half ago on visit to New Zealand. I took lots of photographs of course but these days there are more ways to capture morphological information that standard photos. 3D surface scanning is making it increasingly easy to record and share information about fossils. the Canterbury Museum, home of the fossil, had posted 3D scans of Sequiwaimanu rosieae online so that anyone anywhere in the world can take a closer look at the fossil. Check out the link below to see the technology in action.


If you are interested in more 3D penguins, Dr. Daniel Thomas of Massey University has quite a few bird scans as well at the NZ Fauna project. Here are the wings of a Little Blue Penguin.


Reference: Mayr G, De Pietri VL, Love L, Mannering AA, & Scofield RP. 2018. A well-preserved new mid-paleocene penguin (Aves, Sphenisciformes) from the Waipara Greensand in New Zealand. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology: e1398169.

Written by Dan Ksepka

January 20, 2020 at 2:48 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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