They don’t make penguins like they used to. Thirty-six million years ago, at least one species stood nearly as tall as a man and sported shades of red and gray, scientists announced Thursday.
The new species, called the water king, sheds light on bird evolution, researchers say. For starters, penguins’ apparently recent switch to black-and-white may have been more about swimming than, say, sex or camouflage.
Along with at least two other giant prehistoric penguins, the fossil species was discovered in Peru in 2007 but announced only today. Lab researchers recently recovered wing feathers and smaller body feathers from the 5-foot-tall (150-centimeter-tall) penguin species—today’s biggest living penguin species, the emperor, is just under 4 feet (120 centimeters) tall.
“We found that the leading edge of its wing was gray, and the underside of the wing was a reddish brown,” said study leader Julia Clarke, a paleontologist at the University of Texas at Austin.