Scientists have discovered a missing link that help in understanding how penguins evolved in to a species that inhabits in Antarctica after the extinction of Dinosaurs. Scientists claim the discovery of fossils from five partial skeletons which show that penguins evolved quickly after the extinction of dinosaurs. The study was published on December 9, in journal Palaeontologia Electronica.
According to the study the fossils belong to five partial skeletons which were found on Chatham Islands near New Zealand's South Island. The newly discovered fossils are of Kupoupou stilwelli species which is known as the oldest penguin which resembled the modern penguin in its size. Kupoupou means "diving bird" in Moriori language which is indegenious to Moriori people of the Chatham Islands. According to the study, the penguins used to live 60 to 62.5 million years ago, which accounts for the time period after the extinction of the dinosaurs 66 million years ago. During that time there were no polar ice caps in the South Pole and the oceans were tropical and subtropical.
Jacob Blokland, study author and a PhD palaeontology candidate at Flinders University said , “Next to its colossal human-sized cousins, including the recently described monster penguin Crossvallia waiparensis, Kupoupou was comparatively small, no bigger than modern King Penguins, which stands just under 1.1 meters [3.6 feet] tall,". He further added that, "Kupoupou also had proportionally shorter legs than some other early fossil penguins. In this respect, it was more like the penguins of today, meaning it would have walked on land."
The research revealed that the ancient penguin like the modern ones evolved the skills to perform best under the water. They also discovered that the first ever penguins shared similar hind limbs and foot shape to the modern penguins. Researchers are trying to establish a link between the ancient penguin fossil which they discovered from the South Island's eastern coast, which is 497 miles from the Chatham Islands.
The fossils establish that the penguins evolved much afters after the extinction of dinosaurs. “We think it's likely that the ancestors of penguins diverged from the lineage leading to their closest living relatives -- such as albatross and petrels -- during the Late Cretaceous period, and then many different species sprang up after the dinosaurs were wiped out," according to the study. It further adds, "It's not impossible that penguins lost the ability to fly and gained the ability to swim after the extinction event 66 million years ago, implying the birds underwent huge changes in a very short time. If we ever find a penguin fossil from the Cretaceous period, we'll know for sure."