Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Prehistoric Penguin

Posted Apr 18,2011
From left: Aptenodytes forsteri (Emperor penguin), Inkayacu paracasensis, and Eudyptula minor (Little penguin)
Nothing is black-and-white, it seems. Not even penguins. That’s what University of Texas paleontologist Julia Clarke found after unearthing 36-million- year-old remains in Peru’s Paracas National Reserve—the first penguin fossil ever found with evidence of feathers intact. Like its present-day relatives, Inkayacu paracasensis was a deft swimmer. Unlike them, it weighed more than a hundred pounds and sported a coat with ruddy feathers. Clarke’s team deduced the color last year after comparing tiny pigment packages called melanosomes from the fossilized plumage with those of living species. This part of coastal Peru has recently produced other big penguin finds. Clarke says the area could be key to painting the full picture of the birds’ evolution. For now, a touch of color has been applied. —Catherine Zuckerman

Art: Mauricio Antón. Photo: Julia Clarke, University of Texas at Austin. NGM Maps


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