Fascinating press release today, this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, has a paper describing two new species of fossil penguins, found in the Atacama Desert (Peru).
One species (Icadyptes salasi) dates from 36 mya, and stood 4.5 feet tall. the second species (Perudyptes devriesi ) is older, from 46 mya, and stood about 3 feet tall, roughly the same as modern King Penguins. There are still penguins in South America today Spheniscus humbolti), but the extant species is only about 2 feet tall.
This find is interesting because it pushes the appearance of penguins in this region back by about 30 million years. It is also fascinating because such large birds were present in a relatively warm climate, apparently early penguins were not the cold-specialized birds that we see around us today.
This find looks like it could rewrite the known history of the Spheniscids, the new specimens definitely hold promise to reveal much more about penguin evolution than what was previously known.