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What’s Red, Grey, Scaly And Has Feathers?

This description sure doesn't sound like the penguin we know today, but it is actually one of its great ancestors!


Photo: Bruce McAdam (Flickr)

Such a large and unique animal must have been quite a sight!

A 36-million-year-old fossil that has recently been discovered in Peru was identified as one of the early ancestors of the modern-day penguin!

Birds Of A Feather … Or Scale!

It doesn’t look much like the typical “tux-wearing” penguin we are most familiar with. This penguin was actually a mix of grey and reddish-brown. Evolutionary biologists are still unsure why the species evolved to have black and white feathers. It could have to do with an adaptation to a new environment or as a result of seal predation.

The fossil shows that this ancient species, Inkayacu paracasensis, had both feathers, like a modern penguin, and scales, possibly linked to an even older aquatic ancestor! In fact, research shows that this species also lived a very aquatic lifestyle.

In The Age Of Giants

There is one more feature that sets this ancestor apart from its modern-day descendants: It was nearly 5 feet tall! That’s about twice the height of an Emperor penguin, which is the tallest of all living penguins today.

Such a  large and unique animal must have been quite a sight!

This proves that scientists can learn valuable new information about ancestral species just from looking at the fossils that are left behind!

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Molly Plunkett

is a journalism student at Indiana University and an online producer for A Moment of Science. She is originally from Wheaton, IL.

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