Date: March 1, 2016
of Texas at Austin
Losing the ability to fly gave ancient penguins their unique locomotion style. But leaving the sky behind didn't cause major changes in their brain structure, researchers from The University of Texas at
suggest after examining the skull of the oldest known penguin fossil. Austin
The findings were published in the Journal of Anatomy in February.
"What this seems to indicate is that becoming larger, losing flight and becoming a wing-propelled diver does not necessarily change the [brain] anatomy quickly," said James Proffitt, a graduate student at the university's Jackson School of Geosciences who led the research. "The way the modern penguin brain looks doesn't show up until millions and millions of years later."
Proffitt conducted the research with Julia Clarke, a professor in the
School's Department of Geological
Sciences, and Paul Scofield, the senior curator of Natural History at the Canterbury Museum
where the skull fossil is from. Christchurch,
The skull is from a penguin that lived in
over 60 million years ago during the Paleocene epoch. According to Proffitt, it
likely lived much like penguins today. But while today's penguins have been
diving instead of flying for tens of millions of years, the change was
relatively new for the ancient penguin. New Zealand
"It's the oldest [penguin] following pretty closely after the loss of flight and the evolution of flightless wing-propelled diving that we know of," Proffitt said.