Thursday, February 7, 2013

When Penguins Ruled the Earth

In what must surely rank as the greatest scientific find of the past century, top scientists today announced the most spectacular fossil find in recorded history: Enormous prehistoric penguins.

The species is known to men of science and good taste  as Pinguinus ingens, a standard Latin binomial -- ingens in that language meaning ‘ginormous’ and also ‘ingenious’, in reference to the mighty brain of these Jurassic giants, the largest ever recorded for a terrestrial species.   The creatures discussed in the BBC article, standing a little over four feet tall (thus towering over the human predecessors of the time) are actually a subspecies,  Pinguinus ingens minor.  Its sister species, Pinguinus ingens major,  stood eighty meters high at the shoulder

P. ingens minor, with an entourage of mastodons

In its time, it reigned supreme.  P. ingens major  throned  at the very top of the global food-chain, feasting on mastodons and dinosaurs  whenever the spirit took him.  He had no known natural predators -- the only potential danger stemming from the extraordinarily cunning and violent sabre-toothed hamster  (Cutus longidentis) which in those days sported the size and temperament of a rhinoceros.   Yet at a single Jeeves-like look from one of those frosty fellows so formally attired -- as much as to say, “Do you… have an appointment ? ?” --  the sabre-toothed hamster would grin ingratiatingly and slink away backwards  into the bush.

Such are the findings of modern science.

So --  take it from Dr. Justice.
“Science You Can Trust”  ®

[Breaking update]  We interviewed some leading scientists for their take on these astonishing events.  Reached in his book-lined Harvard office,  Professor Steven Weinberg remarked:

This is fantastic.  I’m quitting physics.  Paleopenguinology is where the action is.

Physicist heart-throb Brian Greene  was equally enthusiastic:

Forget the Higgs boson.   Let the search for the Higgs penguin  begin !

Higgs penguin in its natural habitat

What -- You think I’m making this up ??  O ye of little faith!  Google “Higgs penguin” and you’ll see!   (Never doubt me again.)

“Science You Can Trust”  ®

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We now return you to your regularly scheduled essay.

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~  Bonus factoids ~

Did U know

=>  … that 70% of the world’s fresh water  is concentrated in Antarctica, in the form of icebergs?
=>  … that 90% of the world’s cuteness is concentrated in Antarctica, in the form of penguins?
(Yes, yes, hamsters are cute too;  these scientific statistics are based on total biomass, not headcount.  Hamsters don’t weigh very much.)

 For additional  trustworthy science-y truthiness, click here:

Science You Can Trust”  ®

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Relief for beleaguered Nook lovers!
We now return you to your regularly scheduled essay.

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[ Update 4 IV 12]  Further feathered progenitors:
"Yutyrannus huali, a giant, previously unrecognized dinosaur. The name of the species means 'Run like hell, here come the penguins!!'"
The New York Times article offers what purports to be a  nice photograph of Yutyrannus fleeing in terror before the onslaught of Pinguinus ingens.  However, as a Man of Science ("Science U Can Trust"), I must reluctantly voice some scepticism.  For, the "photographs" in question  were in color.  Now:  Had color photography even been invented, way back then?
(So you see how solicitous Dr Justice ever protects you from possibly bogus science.)

Update:  Photo of fossil of our feathered friend:
Warning:  Not for young children;  he looks a bit shmooshed.

[For further  fuzzy penguin  funstuff,  
simply click here:  ]

=>  Coming soon !    The "World of Dr Justice" interviews an actual  Higgs penguin !!!

In the meantime, while you're waiting, why not buy my books

[Update 7 Feb 2013]

Protungulatum donnae, earliest known ancestor of the saber-toothed hamster:

Bug !   Yum !!
Pinguinus ingens used to scarf these guys for brunch, then tweeze them out of his teeth.

[Update 7/7/2014]  It is with heavy heart that we, curators of the unimpeachable news-source “The World of Dr Justice” © (“Science U Can Trust”  ™ ) must report the latest instance of an ornithological hoax.  We refer, of course, to the so-called “Pelagornis sandersi” (even the name gives it away -- that is not correct Latin -- “sandersi” my eye), currently being credulously reported in the press.  They even back up their fantasy with one of those “artist’s conceptions”, which we reprint here so that you can laugh at it:

It’ll never fly…

For the impossibility of such a contraption, confer the classic On Growth and Form, by D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson.

All that the hoaxsters have done, is to take a genuine fossile of Pinguinus ingens minor, and affix a couple of plainly ungainly ‘wings’.
No-one is fooled by such things, gentlemen.

[Update 5 September 2014]  Yet another purported gigantoscopic dinosaur find has been announced -- that of “Dreadnoughtus” (! -- We kid U not).   Since the name itself clearly announces that the thing is just a prank, we won’t go into it further.
(ScienceCat chimes in:  Rlly, you hadn’t of ought to do that, CNN.   Science is serious stuff -- srsly !)

[Update 12 September 2014]  And now this formidable monster, Spinosaurus aegyptiacus -- just one link beneath Pinguinus ingens on the Jurassic food-chain!

Spinosaurus, fleeing for his life from Pinguinus ingens (not shown) 

Philological phootnote:  “Aegyptiacus” is Latin for ‘aggravating’, in the manner of a little brother or big sister.

[15 March 2016]  The very latest:

That dubious report is subjected to a strict scientific analysis  here:

[21 March 2016]  For those professional skeptics who scoff at our fine science --
be aware that there are far stranger creatures in evolutionary history than Pinguinus ingens!
Here is one whose (admittedly, improbable-seeming) reality  is vouched for by none other than the New York Times:

HEL-Looooo-ooooooo !

Never doubt us again !


[Update 11 August 2017]
The latest welcome additions to the prehistoric airborne menagerie are a couple of eleutherodonts.   Though mammals, they were probably oviparous, like the contemporary platypus -- and like the little-known but well-attested citizen of the Proterozoic, Pinguinus volans:   the amazing and adorable  Flying Penguin!

Here we see one of the newcomers, to which the later Flying Squirrel is a later convergent evolution:

“Maggie”, the Mesozoic Maiopatagium
[Note:  To get the general public to care about fossils, or anything else, it is essential to dub the specimens with some random female name.]

The aviating powers of Pinguinus volans  were primitive at best, as it could attain a cruising ceiling of no more than eleven inches.  En revanche, it was able to maintain that hovering posture for hours on end.

[Update, January 2018]  The latest find:

Gerald Mayr, German paleontologist from Senckenberg Research Institute who led the study, told the media, “It is remarkable that even these early forms reached such an enormous size”. Scientists believe that the bird lived during late Paleocene period, about 55-60 million years ago.

Experts suspect that these specimens were no more than the depauperate larvae of Pinguinus ingens, and thus not actually a new species.

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