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Fossilized feathers reveal colourful past.
A 36-million-year-old fossilized penguin skeleton found on a cliff-face in Peru has given scientists insight into how penguin feathers, originally used for flight, adapted to swimming. The fossil, found by palaeontology student Ali Altamirano of the Museum of Natural History in Lima, contained intact pigments which researchers say mean that, instead of the black and white plumage of modern-day penguins, the ancient bird sported grey and reddish-brown feathers.
The well-preserved feathers of Inkayacu paracasensis are a rare find.Science/AAAS
The fossil includes an intact skull with a long, hooked beak, wing and leg bones, vertebrae and impressions of feathers. The species has been named Inkayacu paracasensis — meaning the water emperor of Paracas, the Peruvian natural reserve in which it was found. The research team estimates that the living bird would have been about 1.5 metres long when swimming and have weighed about 55–60 kilograms, making it twice as heavy as a modern emperor penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri) and among the biggest extinct giant penguins found so far.
The bird's presence in Peru adds to evidence that penguins diversified and spread around the world early in their evolution, says Clarke. Other ancient penguins reached modern-day New Zealand, Antarctica and other parts of South America, where in 2005 Clarke's Peruvian collaborators found another giant penguin from the same time period (See 'Giant penguins lived in Peru').Read more at www.nature.com
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