Fascinating birds of modern species can withstand freezing temperatures or dive deep into fast currents. In fact, penguins have been doing that adorable behaviour for millions of years. The prehistoric penguin's origins date back to the age of the dinosaurs. A New Zealand research team has discovered another member of the ancient family, a small and highly valuable species newly known as Eudyptula wilsonae. His name means Wilson's Little Penguin. In their current study, the researchers detail how examining some tiny skull fossils led to the taxonomy of this cuddly creature that lived 50 million years ago.
Two fossils were found in the North Island of New Zealand. Only the skull remains, the size of which is slightly narrower than that of the small modern penguins (Corora) that now frolic on the shores of the island. The researchers used juvenile and adult skulls to determine that it was a new species. They were probably about 12 inches tall and weighing only 2 pounds, just like they are today. In fact, this new species could be the ancestor of late Pliocene modern birds.
“This is important when thinking about the origins of these penguins, the evolution of the seabird diversity of Aotearoa and the dynamic environment in which they live,” co-author Daniel Thomas said in a statement. “For one thing, the climate has changed a lot over this time, and this lineage has been robust to those changes.” In fact, recent warming has resulted in new challenges for modern little penguins—many starved to death in 2022 as fish moved to cooler waters beyond the diving abilities of the penguins.
The ability that ancient penguins were able to survive when the temperature was high at the time may be applicable to modern times. “Millions of years of environmental change are now being compressed into just a few human lives, and rising temperatures are expanding tropical animal ranges and irreversibly affecting wildlife communities in Aotearoa and other high latitudes. significant change could occur," Thomas told New Zealand Herold. These petrified little penguins are very cute, but modern species require humans to go beyond their cuddly nature and understand the complexities of their survival.