Ever wonder how the first penguin came to waddle on this earth? The evolution of penguins is complex but sadly not much of it is known. The history of penguins isn’t well known and sort of difficult to understand. Penguin fossils are rare so with no place to start not much research on the topic can be done.
Some facts have been discovered through reading old records and making comparisons with other birds. Though some of these facts of penguins aren’t supported by tons and tons of research, it at least gives the curious penguin lover a place to start.
When were they discovered? They were first sighted in the 16th century by European travelers exploring the Southern Hemisphere. The explorers documented them as “Strange creatures who appeared to be birds, swam like fish, and sounded like donkeys.”
How were they named? The first record of the word penguin appears in the 16th century. When European explorers first discovered the birds they noticed the similarity between them and Great Auks. The word penguin and Great Auks are synonyms of each other.
Great Auk to Penguin comparison.
Penguin Fossils. The oldest penguin fossil known came from the now extinct penguin, Waimanu. This fossil was discovered in New Zealand and is about 62 million years old. The waimanu was a penguin not as well adapted to water as modern penguins but still lived in the sea. It was a flightless bird with short wings perfect for deep diving.
Penguin Ancestry. Some scientists believe that penguins have an early sister group and most likely share common ancestors with the now extinct plotopterids, a group of flightless sea birds.
The oldest records of penguins show them still being flightless and seagoing making it clear to scientists that they date back further than current research shows. Without the fossils to support their theories, the evolution of penguins may never fully be known.