Fossils of a giant penguin that stood as tall as humans have been discovered on New Zealand’s South Island.

Bones of the creature suggest the animal stood about 5 feet and 3 inches tall and weighed up to 176 pounds when it lived during the Paleocene Epoch, between 66 and 56 million years ago.

The species called Crossvallia waiparensis was four times heavier and over 1 foot taller than the largest living penguin today, the emperor penguin. The Canterbury Museum called the creature the “monster penguin.”

‘Happy Feet’ Emperor Penguin Heads for Final Destination
An Emperor penguin nicknamed "Happy Feet" slides into the Southern Ocean from its crate on the New Zealand research ship Tangaroa near Campbell Island, New Zealand September 4, 2011. REUTERS

The newly-identified species of penguins is believed to have grown this big because they rapidly evolved evolved in the Palaeocene epoch after the dinosaurs vanished on Earth and large marine reptiles disappeared from the southern hemisphere waters.

"We think that at the time, animals were evolving very rapidly," explained Paul Scofield, senior curator at the Canterbury Museum. "Water temperatures around New Zealand were ideal back then, around 25C (77F) compared to the 8C we have now."

Researchers said that the penguin’s feet played a greater role in the Crossvallia waiparensis’ swimming than in modern penguins.

It isn’t clear though what caused the giant penguins to vanish from the oceans millions of years ago. One theory is that their disappearance may be associated with the arrival of large marine competitors, which include the toothed whales and seals.

It is the second giant penguin from the Palaeocene that has so far been discovered. Fossils of the first prehistoric giant penguin found were discovered in the Cross Valley in Antarctica in 2000.

Vanesa De Pietri, a natural history curator at Canterbury Museum, said the discovery of the new giant penguin from the Palaeocene provides further evidence of the large size of ancient penguins.

It also reinforces the idea that these animals attained a giant size very early in their evolution.

The two species lived at a time when their habitat was different from what they are now.

“When the Crossvallia species were alive, New Zealand and Antarctica were very different from today – Antarctica was covered in forest and both had much warmer climates,” Scofield said.