June 25, 2007
A fossil skull recently uncovered in Peru
reveals that penguins about the size of people roamed the country's Atacama Desert more than 30 million years ago. The newly described species, Icadyptes salasi,
is shown above next to a skull of the only modern penguin living in Peru, Spheniscus humboldti.
A new study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences describes the species, which stood about 4.5 feet (1.5 meters) tall and sported a foot-long (0.3-meter-long) beak. The study also describes a smaller ancient penguin species found in the same region.
Despite I. salasi's unusual height, its beak is disproportionately large, said lead study author Julia Clarke. Other clues on the beakincluding texturing on the bone and a horny sheathsuggest the animal employed a feeding style akin to spear fishing.
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Photograph courtesy Daniel Ksepka