Speed Reads

natural history

Study reveals kids on field trip discovered a new species of giant penguin

During a fossil-hunting excursion in January 2006, members of the Hamilton Junior Naturalist Club came across a major discovery in Waikato, New Zealand, although it took years to fully understand just what they uncovered.

While in the upper Kawhia harbor, the children and their archaeologist guide noticed several fossils that looked different from the crustaceans they normally spotted. In a new study recently published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, scientists from Massey University announced that the kids found a new species of prehistoric penguin, having stumbled upon the most complete fossilized skeleton of an ancient giant penguin yet discovered.

The fossil was donated to the Waikato Museum, and a team of researchers ultimately named the new species waewaeroa, Maori for "long legs." The penguin is between 27.3 and 34.6 million years old and when standing up was likely around five feet tall. Not much is known about the prehistoric giant penguins of New Zealand, and former club member Steffan Safey, who was 13 when the fossil was found, told The Guardian it's "sort of surreal to know that a discovery we made as kids so many years ago is contributing to academia today, and it's a new species even."