Prehistoric Penguin Discovered in New Zealand

A new species of penguin from the Eudyptes genus has been discovered in New Zealand!

Hailing from approximately 3 million years ago (the Pliocene), an exceptionally well preserved specimen of penguin fossils has been identified as belonging to Eudyptes. The newly named species, Eudyptes atatu, is evidence that the Eudyptes genus, characteristic for their feathery “crests”, evolved quite recently. The fossil remains were uncovered at the Tangahoe Formation of New Zealand’s North Island. This find implies that the prehistoric region of Zealandia was a Mecca of penguin diversity, from which many species of penguins evolved, diversified and began their spread across the southern hemisphere.

A breeding pair of modern Erect-Crested Penguins, close relatives of Eudyptes atatu. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Tangahoe Formation during the Pliocene would have been a desolate volcanic island landscape containing great plains of gravel, rock bluffs, riverbeds, tussock grasslands, and shores littered with barnacles. A significant amount of what is now the North Island would have been submerged during this time period.

(a) right lateral view of skull and block with (c) mandible and (d) postcranial elements; (b) right lateral view of the Snares crested penguin (Eudyptes robustus) for comparison. Referred material of Eudyptes atatu including (e) dorsal view of skull, (f) left lateral view of skull, (g) right humerus caudal view, and (h) dorsal and (i) plantar views of right tarsometatarsus. Image Credit: Jean-Claude Stahl, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa / R. Paul Scofield, Canterbury Museum.


  • Daniel B. Thomas et al. 2020. Ancient crested penguin constrains timing of recruitment into seabird hotspot. Proc. R. Soc. B 287 (1932): 20201497; doi: 10.1098/rspb.2020.1497
  • Heenan, P. B., & McGlone, M. S. (2014, July 03). Evolution of New Zealand alpine and open-habitat plant species during the late Cenozoic. Retrieved August 18, 2020, from
  • GNS Science. (n.d.). Pliocene (map symbol P). Retrieved August 21, 2020, from

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