Pedro the Giant Peruvian Penguin

I just came across this article and had to share it with you guys. I got my BA in Anthropology and Archaeology in college, so anything having to do with paleoanthropology or paleontology makes my little nerd heart sing with joy.

You can imagine how this artist’s rendering of a giant ancient penguin makes me feel.

Inkayacu paracasensis – the Water King – was recently discovered in the Atacama Desert of Peru’s eastern coast and is larger than any living or fossilized penguin so far. Nicknamed “Pedro” by scientists, the penguin was about five feet tall – a foot taller than our largest living penguin, the Emperor Penguin, and, BBC reports, almost twice as heavy.

Emperor Penguin Family. Anyone else want to squeeze that baby?

So 35 million years ago, Pedro was cruising around ancient oceans, most likely eating tons of ancient fish, and helping to make giant penguin babies. His beak was super long and pointed, several times longer than that of the only living penguin species in Peru, the Humboldt Penguin (Spheniscus humboldti).

One of the reasons that Pedro is such a big deal to science right now is because of a patch of Pedro’s fossilized feathers. We don’t have a lot of information about ancient penguin feathers, and it turns out Pedro’s are noteworthy: they were red and gray. As you’re aware, most penguins today sport that well-known tuxedo look. Apparently that black-and-white pelage is a relatively “recent” development in penguin history (if anything can be called ‘recent’ when we’re talking millions of years). Penguin feathers are densely, densely packed (about 100 per square inch of skin, more than most other birds); they’re also short and broad, helping the penguin to glide through the water like a fish-eating torpedo. Imagine how warm (and probably smelly) we’d be if we had 100 hairs per square inch of skin!

Pedro’s fossil will also tell scientists more about the evolution of penguin flippers, and why some species – like the Water King – didn’t make it. Now, sit back for a moment and just ponder the thought of a five-foot-tall penguin. Wearing burgundy. Awesome.

I’m going to leave you with this image of the smallest penguin species in the world, the Fairy Penguin (Eudyptula minor), weighing in at a grand 2 pounds. GOO. They could prolly live in a bathtub in a little house like mine, right? (Just kidding kids. Keeping penguins in bathtubs is wrong! Mostly.)




Laelaps is a very cool blog, and this is great article about the ancient penguin!

BBC News’ little bit on Pedro.

NatGeo’s got more photos of Pedro’s story.

Learn more about penguins at Sea World’s site!

Posted on October 2, 2010, in Fauna and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Kia ora (hello)
    I work for the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of New zealand. My job is to run the Kiwi Conservation Club which is the kid’s branch of Forest and Bird.

    Part of my role is to keep our KCC website up to date with interesting articles, and i am about to post an article about the glorious Pedro. I di a bit of fact finding and discovered your blog. I really really like the way you write and your turn of phrase, and wonder if i might paraphrase you in my article? I will be sure to give you credit as author.

    I think children will enjoy your observations and the way you explained Pedro and the significance of the find.

    I hope this is fine by you. For the record we are a non-profit organistaion committed to “giving nature a voice”.

    Thanks for your time and great blog
    Nga mihi nui
    Tiff Stewart

    • Hi Tiff, I would be honored! I am sending an email to you now at the account you have listed. Check your spam if you don’t see it – it will have something to do with hummingbirds… :)

      – tRN

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