Giant 6-Foot-8 Penguin Discovered in Antarctica

Modern emperor penguins are certainly statuesque, but not quite as impressive as the 'colossus penguin' would have been. . Christopher Michel/flickr

The largest penguin species ever discovered has been unearthed in Antarctica, and its size is almost incomprehensible. Standing at 6 foot 8 inches from toe to beak tip, the mountainous bird would have dwarfed most adult humans, reports the Guardian.

In fact, if it were alive today the penguin could have looked basketball superstar LeBron James square in the eyes.

Fossils Provide Clues to the Bird's Size

The bird's 37-million-year-old fossilized remains, which include the longest recorded fused ankle-foot bone as well as parts of the animal's wing bone, represent the most complete fossil ever uncovered in the Antarctic. Appropriately dubbed the "colossus penguin," Palaeeudyptes klekowskii was truly the Godzilla of aquatic birds.

Scientists calculated the penguin's dimensions by scaling the sizes of its bones against those of modern penguin species. They estimate that the bird probably would have weighed about 250 pounds — again, roughly comparable to LeBron James. By comparison, the largest species of penguin alive today, the emperor penguin, is "only" about 4 feet tall and can weigh as much as 100 pounds.

An Arctic Anomaly

Interestingly, because larger bodied penguins can hold their breath for longer, the colossus penguin probably could have stayed underwater for 40 minutes or more. It boggles the mind to imagine the kinds of huge, deep sea fish this mammoth bird might have been capable of hunting.

The fossil was found at the La Meseta formation on Seymour Island, an island in a chain of 16 major islands around the tip of the Graham Land on the Antarctic Peninsula. (It's the region that is the closest part of Antarctica to South America.) The area is known for its abundance of penguin bones, though in prehistoric times it would have been much warmer than it is today.

P. klekowskii towers over the next largest penguin ever discovered, a 5-foot-tall bird that lived about 36 million years ago in Peru. Since these two species were near contemporaries, it's fun to imagine a time between 35 and 40 million years ago when giant penguins walked the Earth, and perhaps swam alongside the ancestors of whales.