When you live long enough, the news begins to resemble H.P. Lovecraft. Just wait; you’ll see I’m right.
The Toronto Sun and elsewhere report that Yale researchers have discovered a new species of giant penguin in Peru, in findings to be described in the 01 October print issue of Science (That’s a PDF link to the Table of Contents, just to be anal about it).
The Inkayacu Paracasensis, or “Water King” Penguin, was more than 5 feet tall and lived 36 million years ago. But what promises to plunge the Penguin Nerd Community into a Spin Bath is the fact that the specimen found has both feathers and scales. Birds have scales, apparently. I used to handle hawks, and nobody ever pointed this out to me. For the time it took me to type “wikipedia.org” and “avian scales,” the biological world was turned on its head. It was pretty cool.
OK. Now, with that whole “reptiles” thing out of the way, let’s point out that the way cool thing about the preserved feathers and scales is that they tell you what color our big penguins were. Here’s what the Toronto Sun says:
…The colour of the now-extinct penguins feathers were grey and white across the body, with reddish brown wings and belly. The disconnect from the modern black-and-white penguins, the researchers think, could have more to do with predators than anything else.
Much of a penguin’s colourings come from the nano-scale structure of the materials that make up its feathers. The red-and-grey penguin, they believe, may have been better adapted to sliding through the water easily than modern penguins.
As seals were introduced into their ecosystem, for example, the black-and-white colourings would have made it easier to hide.
Or as Huffington Post put it:
Some ancient penguins may have been twice as big as today’s Emperor penguin but they lacked the dashing tuxedo.
Excuse the hell out of me, HuffPo, but since when does “grey and white across the body, with reddish brown wings and belly” not sound like one friggin’ AWESOME tuxedo?
Anyway, you can read the Sun article here, the HuffPo article here, the LA Times article here, or just do what I plan to do and pick up a copy of Science from Bert’s Exotic Novelties, where they keep it under the counter.
The Lovecraft story I reference, of course, is At The Mountains of Madness, where six-foot tall blind penguins live underneath the Antarctic ice. They mostly waddle happily around, which makes them pretty far ahead of the game in a Lovecraft story.