New Zealanders can lay claim to yet another flightless
bird, with recent research on the origin of the penguin
suggesting the species originated from prehistoric New Zealand.
The theory was articulated by University of Otago
palaeontologist Prof Ewan Fordyce and Dr Daniel Ksepka, of
North Carolina State University, in an article published in
the November issue of Scientific American, which has a
readership of 0.6 million.
The two researchers say fossil finds in New Zealand since the
1980s suggest penguins developed in Zealandia not long after
the end of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. New Zealand is
the largest exposed area of Zealandia, which is a submerged
mini continent that broke from the ancient supercontinent
Prof Fordyce told the Otago Daily Times the idea
penguins originated in Zealandia was a "developing story",
based on the discovery of "protopenguin" fossils, between 58
and 62 million years old, around Waipara.
The fossils, in-between modern penguins and "something like a
shag or an albatross", meant here was "as good a guess as
any" for the species' origin, so "penguins are ancestral New
Prof Fordyce said Zealandia was a perfect place for penguins
to develop: "It was probably almost an island paradise,
sitting in the middle of the South Pacific, with rich food
resources in the waters around, probably plenty of areas for
penguins ... to nest."
Prof Fordyce said it was "nice" having the story published to
such a broad audience.