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Human-Sized Penguin Once Waddled the Earth, Scientists Find

At 220 pounds, the penguin weighed significantly more than the average man.

While human ancestors were a lot shorter than modern humans, prehistoric penguins were apparently giant. An international team of scientists just discovered a new species of prehistoric penguin in New Zealand. It weighed 220 pounds and stood at about 5 foot 10 inches.

The new species has been named Kumimanu biceae, which means "monster bird" in the language of the Maori, the indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand.

prehistoric penguin

The monster bird towers over the largest currently living penguin, the emperor penguin, which is only about 4 feet tall. At 5 foot 10 inches, this penguin would have been about as tall as the average man, and significantly taller than the average woman.

At 220 pounds, the penguin weighed significantly more than the average man.

prehistoric penguin Credit: Senckenberg Research Institute

The new species lived between 55 million and 60 million years ago, but it is not the first giant prehistoric penguin to be discovered.

Anthropornis nordenskjoeldi is another large species — of similar size to Kumimanu biceae—that lived in Antarctica between 33 million and 45 million years ago.

In reality, human-sized penguins used to be relatively common.

prehistoric penguin

The newly discovered species emerged a few million years after the dinosaurs went extinct. The extinction of the dinosaurs could have opened a window for penguins to break through "a glass ceiling of evolutionary size," New Zealand paleontologist Ewan Fordyce told NPR.

Another factor to consider is that this was about 20 million years before whales emerged. With no whales or other marine mammals, these giant penguins would have had little competition for food.

The theory is that when large marine mammals like whales, seals and walruses emerged, the giant penguins died out, leaving only the small ones remaining.

So unfortunately, your dreams of cuddling a human-sized penguin will probably never come to fruition. Unless we actually make Jurassic Park a reality, but bring back the penguins instead of the dinosaurs.

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