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Bruce Museum curator authors a paper on the reconstruction a 34 million year old penguin's brain
Life restoration of a 34.2 million year old Antarctic fossil penguin and the extant chinstrap penguin, with 3Dvirtual reconstruction of their brains based on X-Ray CT scan data (top right). Original artwork by Santiago Druetta.


GREENWICH, CONN.- Bruce Museum Curator of Science Dr. Daniel T. Ksepka has coauthored a research paper on fossil penguin brain endocasts that will be published as a feature article in the prestigious academic journal Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology in September. The artwork related to the article, pictured above, will appear on the journal’s cover.

The paper, co-authored by Dr. Claudia Tambussi, Dr. Federico “Dino” Degrange (both based in Argentina), and Dr. Ksepka sheds light on the penguin brain based on research conducted with Antarctic fossils, some more than 34 million years old. The international team used computed tomography (CT) scan data to map the areas once occupied by the brain in the fossils, creating a virtual model that includes the brain, cranial nerves, semicircular canals, and blood vessels. This allowed them to compare the volume and morphology of the fossil penguins to modern species like the Emperor Penguin.

"Comparing species that both fly and dive, in the way our study does, brings us closer to the answers of two major questions about penguin brain evolution: (1) what major morphological changes have occurred, (2) when did these changes occur?" said lead author Claudia Tambussi.

“The Antarctic fossils reveal that the neuroanatomy of penguins was still evolving roughly 30 million years after the loss of aerial flight,” says Ksepka. “Our data support the recently articulated hypothesis that the morphology of the Wulst, a brain structure associated with complex visual function, underwent independent expansions in different groups of birds, including penguins.”

Dr. Ksepka is a paleontologist, and is especially passionate about penguins. He earned his PhD in Earth and Environmental Sciences from Columbia University in 2007 and spent five years in residence at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, where he performed his dissertation research on the fossil record of penguins. His personal science blog, March of the Fossil Penguins, attracts more than 40,000 visitors a year.

Dr. Ksepka’s first exhibition at the Bruce Museum, Madagascar: Ghosts of the Past, was written up in The New York Times and is currently on view in the Museum’s science gallery, through November 8. His next exhibition at the Bruce, Secrets of Fossil Lake, presents ferocious predatory fish, delicate feathered birds, and tiny primitive horses from a Wyoming lake that vanished 50 million years ago, all preserved as “astonishingly beautiful fossils,” Ksepka says. Secrets of Fossil Lake opens at the Bruce November 21.






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