The albatross is related to the waimanu!
Waimanu Scientific Classification
- Scientific Name
- Waimanu manneringi
Waimanu Conservation Status
- Favorite Food
This post may contain affiliate links to our partners like Chewy, Amazon, and others. Purchasing through these helps us further the A-Z Animals mission to educate about the world's species.
If you like penguins, you’ll love the now-extinct Waimanu.
These birds lived during the Paleocene epoch and were the ancestors of modern-day penguins. Like their descendants, they were not able to fly. Unlike penguins, they did not live their lives in the water. Studying Waimanu fossils helps scientists learn more about how birds evolved.
Waimanu Species, Types, and Scientific Name
The Waimanu is actually a genus within the Sphenisciformes order. The only known species is the Waimanu manneringi. The Sphenisciformes include modern penguins such as the Emperor Penguin, Galapagos Penguin, and Macaroni Penguin. Waimanu are part of the class Aves. This includes all birds, which are characterized scientifically by the presence of feathers, beaks, laying eggs, and a lightweight skeleton that is ideal for flight. Not all birds can fly. However, they all have these features.
These ancient birds are members of the phylum Chordata and kingdom Animalia. Understanding how they fit into the scientific classification system and how their descendants evolved and branched off into different species is a key part of study for researchers who want to learn more about the animal world.
Description and Size
Scientists rely on fossils to reconstruct the appearance of ancient animals, including the Waimanu. When describing newly discovered species, researchers rely on a holotype specimen. This is a single specimen that most closely represents what scientists believe the animal actually looked like. For the Waimanu, this holotype specimen includes a partial skeleton.
The fossils show that the Waimanu was between 2 and 3.2 feet tall. It stood on two legs and two flippers. These birds were between 22 and 66 pounds. For comparison, Waimanu are a bit smaller than Emperor Penguins. Emperor Penguins are the largest penguin species still in existence and are between 3.6 and 4.3 feet tall, weighing around 50 pounds or more.
Only one hind limb, a pelvis, and some vertebrae were found. This limits what scientists can say about how the Waimanu looked and behaved. However, they used other known evidence of bird and ancient penguin evolution to paint a fuller picture.
Habitat: When and Where It lived
The holotype specimen was discovered in New Zealand. Researchers found fossilized remains in rock formations that can be dated to the Paleocene epoch.
The date when Waimanu lived is one of the most fascinating parts about these animals and tells scientists a lot about when and how birds evolved. The fossilized bones can be dated to between 62 and 60 million years ago using technology to determine the age of the rock formations where they were found. Why is this significant?
A worldwide extinction event occurred around 66 million years ago called the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event. The dinosaurs went extinct and only a few species were actually able to survive. It took millions of years for the earth’s surface to become hospitable to life and evolution again. The fossilized evidence shows that Waimanu lived just 4 million years later. This is a key link between prehistoric life before the major extinction event that killed the dinosaurs and the species that exist today.
Diet: What Did Waimanu Eat?
It is likely based on location and other features of their remains that Waimanu’s diet was similar to that of modern penguins. They probably favored fish and could swim well enough to make them a staple part of their diet. However, Waimanu could probably not swim as efficiently as modern penguins. Their front flippers were not formed to glide through the water as quickly and easily.
Waimanu were probably some of the first ancient birds to develop a flightless existence. After the dinosaurs and other larger animals went extinct, ancient animals like birds no longer needed to get away quickly or avoid predators in the seas. This made them a perfect feeding ground for Waimanu.
Threats and Predators
There probably weren’t many predators for Waimanu because of how closely they lived to the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event. The ocean and land would have been relatively unpopulated as the world returned to a hospitable environment. Even though they couldn’t get away quickly by waddling or swimming, Waimanu likely didn’t need to outrun predators often.
Threats to the Waimanu would have come from food scarcity and the rapidly changing environment. Based on what was needed to survive, these animals continued to evolve into other species. Eventually, they branched off into the many species of penguins that we see today.
Researchers have not discovered eggs or nests that belonged to Waimanus. They do believe that they laid eggs and their young hatched similar to modern penguins. It is unclear whether they incubated their eggs in their feathers and bodies like penguins today. They lived around present-day New Zealand and the entire earth’s temperature was higher. This means that they may not have needed to incubate their eggs like species such as the Emperor Penguin, which lives in the cold Antarctic.
Discoveries and Fossils: Where It was Found
Researcher Al Mannering found the holotype specimen in 1980. After describing it to the scientific community, the species was named Waimanu manneringi to recognize his role in its discovery. He found it in the Waipara Greensand in New Zealand.
This rock formation dates to the Paleocene and is a popular place for researchers to look for fossils and other evidence of life during that period in earth’s history. The Waimanu is one of the most notable discoveries from the Waipara Greensand. Ancient sharks also lived in this region, letting researchers know that it was likely an environment with plenty of water.
Extinction: When Did It Die Out?
The most recent evidence of Waimanu dates to around 60 million years ago. As the earth changed rapidly during this time, Waimanu and many other animal species also evolved. Scientists are still learning about the link between Waimanu and how they evolved into modern penguins. The order they belonged to, Sphenisciformes, is still in existence and has
Similar Animals to the Waimanu
- Emperor Penguin: These are the largest penguins alive and can get almost 4 feet tall and up to 100 pounds. They live on Antarctica and are easily recognized by their grey backs, white bellies, black heads and necks, and orange and yellow shading.
- Albatross: Believe it or not, but the albatross is actually related to the Waimanu. These sea birds are part of the Procellariiformes order. This split off from the Sphenisciformes order in prehistoric times, possibly even as the Waimanu evolved into new species.
Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.