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Palaeospheniscus patagonicus (Aves, Sphenisciformes): new discoveries from the Early Miocene of Argentina

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 May 2016

Carolina Acosta Hospitaleche
1División Paleontología Vertebrados. Museo de La Plata, Paseo del Bosque s/nro, 1900 La Plata, Argentina, 2CONICET
Liliana Castro
3Departamento de Ciencias Geológicas, Facultad de Ciencias Exactas y Naturales de la Universidad de Buenos Aires, Ciudad Universitaria, Pab. 2, 1 piso, 1428 Buenos Aires
Claudia Tambussi
1División Paleontología Vertebrados. Museo de La Plata, Paseo del Bosque s/nro, 1900 La Plata, Argentina, 2CONICET
Roberto A. Scasso


The penguin skeleton studied here constitutes the fourth partial skeleton found in Patagonia, and the third one with an associated humerus and tarsometatarsus. The finding of this partial skeleton identified with certainty as Palaeospheniscus patagonicus Moreno and Mercerat, 1891 (Aves, Sphenisciformes) allows the first description of elements other than the tarsometatarsus. The material comes from the basal sector of the Gaiman Formation (Early Miocene), located along the Atlantic coast of Chubut Province, south of Rawson city. This unit comprises a succession of shales, fine tuffs, sandstones, tuffaceous sandstones, and coquinas deposited in a shallow marine environment. These beds contain abundant marine vertebrates (sharks, dolphins, rays, birds), mollusk casts, and oyster beds. The skeleton includes: rostrum, two thoracic vertebrae, right coracoid without the distal end, left humerus, right femur, right tarsometatarsus, left fragmentary scapula, left coracoid, left radius without the distal end, proximal portion of left ulna, proximal end of left femur, and preacetabular part of the synsacrum. P. patagonicus would have been a medium-sized penguin weighing about 5 kg that inhabited the breeding colonies established in the nearby Bryn Gwyn area during the early Miocene. Despite the abundance of penguin remains known for Argentina, and the fact that they are among the birds with a better fossil record, this skeleton is an exceptional case. This finding allows a readjustment of the taxonomic criteria applicable to fossil and living species.

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