STL Science Center

STL Science Center

11 December 2015

Dueling Penguins

Icadyptes (top) and Inkayacu (bottom)
I have decided this week that we really need to look at two animals at the same time. Distinctly different but interesting and similar, the two giant penguins of South America, Icadyptes salasi and Inkayacu paracasensis were both approximately 1.5 m (5 ft) tall and were amazingly developed 36 million years ago such that they resemble modern penguins in shape and function from their bills to their feathers. The fact that they were enormous and built for swimming, like their descendants, means that the ocean ballet we see with the much smaller modern penguins was happening 36 million years ago with birds as tall as an adult human (using myself as scale because I am short). As now, these penguins ate fish while they darted about in the ocean and, with their larger bodies and heads, were definitely capable of grabbing larger fish than current penguins. Assuming that fish were also somewhat larger in their time that is. We know that even now some adult fish can reach astounding size, but do not always because of commercial fishing. Human over-fishing did not cause the demise of these penguins, however. Due to the fact that the two penguins were discovered in Late Eocene rocks of Peru, they must have been contemporaries and should be considered together to discuss the ecology of each as they would have interacted in life.

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