Photo: Anne Frohlich (Flickr)
It means water king, and it’s the name of an extinct giant penguin that lived in Peru about thirty six million years ago. Of course, that was so long ago, Peru was covered with water and the Andes Mountains weren’t there yet.
The largest penguins in existence today are Emperor Penguins. They are only about three feet tall and weigh less than one hundred pounds. And Inkayacu wasn’t the only giant penguin. Over fifty extinct species of fossil penguins have been found, including a group of about a half dozen giant species. Another large penguin, Kairuku, discovered in New Zealand was over four feet tall.
Giant penguin populations started to decline about twenty five million years ago. Scientists think larger species became extinct because fish eating toothed whales were appearing about then. The whales probably out competed the giant penguins for food.
Inkayacu was not only tall, it had a long beak like a heron. And it wasn’t black and white like today’s penguins.
Well Preserved Fossils
Scientists were lucky to find a well preserved fossil with scaly soft tissue and feathers. Melanosomes, the cells that create color in the feather, were still present in the fossil. Scientists compared the fossil’s melanosomes to living birds to determine the bird’s colors. It was gray and rust colored.