Paleontologists at the University of Texas at Austin and other institutions have investigated the fossil of a giant penguin found in Peru. At five feet tall, it would have dwarfed today’s largest living penguins. A UT press release stated, “The fossil shows [that] the flipper and feather shapes that make penguins such powerful swimmers evolved early.”1
The sudden appearance of penguins has been an evolutionary mystery. Their fossils are rare, prompting at least one evolutionist to speculate on penguin origins based on the kinds of fleas they have in common with rodents! Writing in Vertebrate History: Problems in Evolution, technical author Barbara Stahl stated, “Since no site has yet given up a specimen recognizable as protopenguin, it is impossible to guess where or even in which climate penguin history began.”2
The Peruvian penguin, named Inkayacu paracasensis, is not a protopenguin either. Instead, it has all of the standard penguin features, including a torpedo-shaped body, solid bones to decrease buoyancy, short and stiff feathers for underwater life, and flipper-like wings.
But after supposedly 36 million years,3 the wings and feathers of this fossil had original melanosomes, like other fossilized animal remains that have recently been described.4,5,6,7 These structures, manufactured by special skin cells, contain the pigment melanin. They can be used to absorb harmful sunlight, provide a camouflaged covering, or, in the case of penguins, add resilience to feathers. Melanin is long-lasting–but not this long.
The researchers compared the penguin melanosomes to those in living bird feathers and were able to reconstruct its color patterns. While they speculated on why the patterns of dark melanosomes and therefore colors might have evolved from Inkayacu’s reddish brown and gray feathers to today’s “black tuxedo,” the curious question as to how melanosomes could possibly defy decay for millions of years went unanswered.3….
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