Zealandia and The Origin of Penquins

in Palnet6 months ago

Ever wonder why New Zealand got it’s name? I know, not a burning topic. The thought has crossed my mind a few times when I’ve seen news reports about the country. Usually when a country is called “New xxx” there is an original some place that it was named after.

New Zealand was named by the Dutch navigator Abel Janszoom Tasman in December 1642. It was named, Nieuw Zeeland, after the Dutch maritime province of Zeeland which is northwest of the Belgian city of Antwerp. When James Cook arrived in 1769 he anglicized he name to New Zealand and proceeded to attach many more English place names.


When an area about two thirds the size of Australia around New Zealand was later identified as submerged continental land it was named Zealandia. Zealandia, Antarctica and Australia were all part of a supercontinent called Gondwana until it separated around 85 million years ago.

Many scientists argue Zealandia is an eight continent while many others agree it was once a continent, it being submerged about 1km below the sea means it can’t be classed as one. Geological surveys on samples taken from the area shows the land is continental not oceanic in origin.

Regardless of it’s current status, there is no argument that an area of about 2million square miles (5.18million square kms) did sink into the ocean some 50 to 35 million years ago leaving New Zealand and some smaller islands above water.

Scientists believe the sinking may have been related to the formation of the Pacific’s Ring of Fire, the movement of tectonic plates. They estimate New Zealand was driving 1-2km upward while the rest of Zealandia was driven about 1km downward into the sea.

Extinct Penguin Fossil Found On North Island

Recently well preserved 3 million year old fossils of an extinct penguins species was found on the north New Zealand island. After a careful analysis of the fossils scientists believe they are a missing link between ancient and modern penguins.

They are also an indication Zealandia might have been a biodiversity hotspot for sea birds for millions of years and New Zealand continued to be after Zealandia sank. Earlier studies had indicated the hotspot was only about 7,000 years old.

The Origin Point for Penguins

After scientists completed their analysis of the fossils they entered the gathered data into a software program that uses data about fossils and other information to map likely origins and migrations. The simulation concluded all modern penguins descendd from the same Zealandia dwelling ancestor.

The original penquins were believed to have stood about 5’8” (173cm) tall and weighed 220lbs (99.8kg).

From Zealandia penguins are believed to have migrated to South America and the Antarctica. Later groups were believed to have used the Antarctic Circumpolar Current to migrate to other areas some 30 to 40 million years ago.

New Zealand As The Seabird Capital of the World

New Zealand is home to 13 species of penguins for at least part of the year. That is more than any other country in the world. More than a third of the 80 native seabird species found in New Zealand are unique to the region.

Evolution of Penguins

Penguins lost the ability to fly before the polar ice sheets formed. The became expert swimmers and getting off the ground became too much effort. We usually think of them as being most at home around ice floes but they evolved to be aquatic birds.

Recent research indicates their evolution and diversity was largely driven by changing global temperatures. The expansion of Antarctica’s glaciers around 16 million years ago saw a significant global cooling. By 14 million years ago the modern crown penguin had emerged.

Genetic adaptations have allowed them to thrive on both land and water. These adaptions include:

  • body size
  • underwater vision
  • heat regulation
  • driving ability
  • shorter forearm bones
  • reduced feathers which led to developing flippers
  • ability to store white fat to work as insulation and energy source

Today’s rising temps slows the rate of evolution and penguin populations are experiencing the stress. Of the 18 species of penguins currently living in the southern hemisphere over half of them are classified as endangered or vulnerable.

The Cutest Penguin Ever

While I was researching this article I found a species of penguins I never knew existed and I think are the cutest. I know, most of them are cute but these little guys are the best IMO.

The Little Blue Penquin also called the Fairy Penguin is found in New Zealand. Here’s a short video with some facts about these cuties.

Would be a real shame to lose these guys in the not too distant future.

Header image from Pixabay

Shadowspub is a writer from Ontario, Canada. She writes on a variety of subjects as she pursues her passion for learning. She also writes on other platforms and enjoys creating books you use like journals, notebooks, coloring books etc.

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[@quekery] Nice Post



Yeah this little blue penguim is cute

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Shadows, the variety of things that you write! Your joy of writing lifts right off the page.✨

I often ask myself the same thing. If I see a "New" in front of Country I think about the path of discovery and its frequent counterpart, colonisation, eg., New Calodonia, New South Wales, New Amsterdam off the top...

For New Zealand, Dutch exploration makes complete sense. They were staking claim and growing tall, those Dutch. But did they know they were entering such a treasure trove of sea birds? What delight they must have felt.

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Keep Trucking!


Some days I never quite know what I'll end up writing on. This one started out about Penguins and got Zealandia added. Learn something all the time.

Geological surveys on samples taken from the area shows the land is continental not oceanic in origin.

All sorts of fun facts in your post. I don't think I've ever pondered the origin of New Zealand. I definitely had no idea it once had an above ocean land mass that would qualify it as an 8th continent.

The original penguins were believed to have stood about 5’8” (173cm) tall and weighed 220lbs (99.8kg).

Giant penguins taller than me?! Um...no thank you.

Thanks for educating me and showing me cute blue penguins on a fine Sunday afternoon. Cheers!

IT was an interesting post to explore. I started out down one path and ended up down a few others in order to bring it all together.