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College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences


Smart Stuff with Twig Walkingstick: People-sized Penguins (for the Week of July 1, 2007)

July 1, 2007

Q. Dear Twig: Did you hear about the giant penguin? Some scientists found some fossils from one. What's the biggest penguin today? What's the biggest penguin ever?


A. Yes, I heard about the giant penguin. Web sites and papers ran stories about it. The new giant penguin, the scientists said, lived about 36 million years ago. And it stood about 5 feet high, or nearly the same as Sharpay Evans ("Toodles!"), Mary-Kate and Ashley (now, not then), and Earl Boykins, the shortest player in the NBA.


Compare that to the tallest penguin on Earth today, the emperor penguin, the type in the movie "March of the Penguins." Emperors stand about 4 feet high.


As for the biggest penguin ever, fossils tell us the tallest was Nordenskjoeld's giant penguin, 5 feet 7 inches, 200 pounds. And the heaviest was the New Zealand giant penguin, 220 pounds, though a wee bit shorter at 5 feet 3 inches.


Both waddled millions of years ago.




P.S. Also cool about the new ancient penguin: It had a huge beak. And it lived in the tropics!


Notes: Sources included North Carolina State University, "March of the Giant Penguins,"; and BBC News, "Tropical Giant Penguin Discovered," Both sites show what the new old giant penguin might have looked like and also have details about a second, smaller prehistoric penguin discovered by the same team of scientists. Sources also included the Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times and National Geographic News.


About this column: "Smart Stuff with Twig Walkingstick," a free public service of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences - specifically, of the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) and Ohio State University Extension, both part of the College - is a weekly column for children about science, nature, farming and the environment. The reading level typically rates at grades 3.5-4.5. For details, to ask Twig a question, and/or to receive the column free by mail or e-mail, contact Kurt Knebusch, CommTech, OSU/OARDC,1680 Madison Ave., Wooster, OH 44691,, (330) 263-3776. Online at

Kurt Knebusch