Aptenodytes forsteri, the emperor penguin, is a flightless Antarctic bird with extremely distinctive morphology and behavior. Penguins in general (see also Spheniscus demersus, the jackass penguin) are highly derived avians with no clear relatives among other living birds, although most studies suggest that they are related to one among a number of seabirds. These possible sister groups include loons (Olson 1985), loons and grebes (Sibley and Ahlquist, 1990; Mayr and Clarke, 2003), and tubenoses (albatrosses and petrels; Simpson, 1946; Livezey and Zuzi, 2001; Bertelli and Giannini, 2005). This confusion is probably due to convergence among seabirds adapted to similar environments, and to the fact that penguins evolved nearly 55 million years ago and have since undergone extreme morphological and genetic modification (Fordyce and Jones, 1990).
Relationships within penguins are also controversial and largely unresolved, although the six living genera almost certainly form natural groups. The aptenodytid penguins, which include the emperor penguin and the king penguin (Aptenodytes patagonicus), may be most closely related to the pygoscelid penguins (the Adelie, Gentoo, and Chinstrap). Alternatively, they may be the earliest group of living penguins to have evolved, with no close relationship to any other penguin species. This hypothesis is supported by penguin biogeography: because penguins likely originated in Antarctica, the species of penguins living there today probably evolved first.
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