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Elephant bird

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  • Registered Users Posts: 30,747 ✭✭✭✭ Galvasean


    Came across this in a book I'm reading atm, anyone like to share their knowledge? I read it was up to 3m tall, is that the tallest bird ever ? Anyone know of any good pics, etc? Thanks.

    Just for reference which book are you reading?

    It's scientific name is Aepyornis and yes it was about 3 meters tall, weighing nearly half a tonne, making it arguably* the biggest (but not the tallest) bird known.

    I just had a read of the wikipedia page on the elephant bird and it's pretty up to date. Good place to start.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elephant_bird

    Check out the size-wise diagram:
    Giantbirds.png
    For the record, Struthio is the ostrich, while Gigantoraptor, Utahraptor and Deinonychus are dinosaurs.


    *Other contenders include:

    The tallest bird known is a type of moa called Dinornis which was over 3.5 meters tall (some 12 feet), weighing around 250kg. Although the moa is taller than the elephant bird, the elephant bird would have been considerably heavier.
    Here it is compared to Aptornis another giant bird from New Zealand :
    748.%20.11.jpg

    Bullockornis which was about 2.5 meters tall, weighing 250kg and lived in Australia some 15million years ago. It's closest relatives appear to be ducks. Debate persists whether it was a plant eater or a meat eater.
    It has a close relative called Dromornis which is known from very incomplete remains and may have reached 3 meters in height. If this size is correct it would probably outrank the elephant bird in size. However not enough remains are known to make an accurate judgment with many believing it to be the remains of a particularly large Bullockornis.
    250px-Dromornis_BW.jpg

    The phorusrhacids, the legendary terror birds of South America could reach nearly 3 metres in height, weighing close to 150 kg. the most spectacular of their kind was the unusual North American Titanis (about 9 feet tall) which had re-evolved claws on it's arm like wings. The last of the terror birds are believed to have died off less than 100,000 years ago.
    Titanis_Horse.jpg

    Gastornis belonged to a similar (albeit more primitive) group of hunting birds. it could reach 6 feet tall and had a beak built like a hatchet (unlike the phorusrhacids which had eagle like hook style beaks). Gastornis and it's ilk lived in North America and Europe around 50 million years ago and were the first large land predator since the giant dinosaurs were wiped out 65MYA (aprox).
    gastornis_hzoom.jpg

    (no pedantic dinosaurs were related to birds replies please!)
    .

    All replies are pedantic dino-bird replies!!!! :mad: :pac:


  • Closed Accounts Posts: 16,170 ✭✭✭✭ brianthebard


    Thanks for all the info dude, I knew you were just waiting for someone to ask you a question so you could show off. ;) the book is called ecology and imperialism, not exactly dino or paleo related, it was a short few lines about the mythical elephant bird that caused me to wonder (apparently people believed it was capable of catching an elephant in its claws and dropping it to the ground!).

    Did it only live on Madagascar? Were they still alive when Europeans discovered the island? And how long did they exist for? Thanks again.


  • Registered Users Posts: 30,747 ✭✭✭✭ Galvasean


    it was a short few lines about the mythical elephant bird that caused me to wonder (apparently people believed it was capable of catching an elephant in its claws and dropping it to the ground!).

    Well, no one really taught the elephant bird itself could do that par-sé, but when it's bones where firdt discovered they were (rather fancifully) attributed to the giant eagle of legend known as The RoC, which according to legend was capable of doing so.
    Did it only live on Madagascar?

    As far as we know they only lived in Madagasgar. However some egg remains once taught to belong to a close relative of the elephant bird were found on one of the Canary islands. It has been theorized that there may briefly have existed a land bridge that the birds could have walked across. More research into said eggs has suggested that they may have belonged to some form of unknown giant seabird.
    Were they still alive when Europeans discovered the island? And how long did they exist for? Thanks again.

    The first Aepyornsis are believed to have appeared at some point in the Pleistocene epoch around 1 million years ago.
    The last elephant birds known from fossils survived to as recently as 1,000AD.
    However reports from European sailors suggest a few may have survived until as recently as 1469. Unfortunately these reports are very vague and could possibly refer to a large species of crowned eagle which lived on Madagascar at the time called Stephanoaetus or the reports may even have been confused with sightings of ostriches on the mainland of Africa.


  • Registered Users Posts: 879 ✭✭✭ Druss Rua


    Really informative posts, Galvasean, thanks! :)


  • Closed Accounts Posts: 16,170 ✭✭✭✭ brianthebard


    Galvasean wrote: »
    Well, no one really taught the elephant bird itself could do that par-sé, but when it's bones where firdt discovered they were (rather fancifully) attributed to the giant eagle of legend known as The RoC, which according to legend was capable of doing so.



    As far as we know they only lived in Madagasgar. However some egg remains once taught to belong to a close relative of the elephant bird were found on one of the Canary islands. It has been theorized that there may briefly have existed a land bridge that the birds could have walked across. More research into said eggs has suggested that they may have belonged to some form of unknown giant seabird.
    I read that in the book I think, I wonder if the egg remains were perhaps just brought to the Canaries by European sailors though? Especially since no bones have been found yet? (or have they?)


    The first Aepyornsis are believed to have appeared at some point in the Pleistocene epoch around 1 million years ago.
    The last elephant birds known from fossils survived to as recently as 1,000AD.
    However reports from European sailors suggest a few may have survived until as recently as 1469. Unfortunately these reports are very vague and could possibly refer to a large species of crowned eagle which lived on Madagascar at the time called Stephanoaetus or the reports may even have been confused with sightings of ostriches on the mainland of Africa.

    Any ideas why they died out? Thanks again.


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  • Registered Users Posts: 30,747 ✭✭✭✭ Galvasean


    I read that in the book I think, I wonder if the egg remains were perhaps just brought to the Canaries by European sailors though? Especially since no bones have been found yet? (or have they?)

    It's certainly possible as such a large egg might have been regarded as a valuable trophy and would have been coveted by museums at the time. An explorer could probably get a good price for a reasonably intact elephant bird egg.
    Any ideas why they died out? Thanks again.

    The most recent theory (proposed by David Attenborough no less) attributes their downfall mostly to climate change, an increased drying of Madagascar and the loss of their usual forest habitat. The loss of forest land would have made good nesting sites harder to come by, leaving their eggs more vulnerable than usual. Add to this a probable slow rate of reproduction and the elephant bird was in trouble.


  • Closed Accounts Posts: 20,760 ✭✭✭✭ dlofnep


    Terror birds were awesome. Have seen a few cgi documentaries about them.


  • Registered Users Posts: 30,747 ✭✭✭✭ Galvasean


    dlofnep wrote: »
    Terror birds were awesome. Have seen a few cgi documentaries about them.

    They also had a pretty cool scene in Roland Emmerich's movie 10,000 BC. Chasing cavemen and such :pac:

    I have no idea where the following clip came from but it is all kinds of awesome:


  • Registered Users Posts: 30,747 ✭✭✭✭ Galvasean


    Here is an interesting aricle on moa poo which reaveals surprising secrets:
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/01/090112110115.htm

    Also while browsing I found a nice piece on Haast's eagle (you'll like it, it's big):
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/01/050111093910.htm

    050111093910.jpg


  • Closed Accounts Posts: 16,170 ✭✭✭✭ brianthebard


    Big birds are cool! Also, if the moa were so important to the propagation of those plants that are now threatened, shouldn't they have become extinct sooner? Perhaps there were other creatures that filled the void? Also, were there no marsupials or any other large non insect creatures in NZ before the Maori arrived?


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  • Registered Users Posts: 30,747 ✭✭✭✭ Galvasean


    Big birds are cool! Also, if the moa were so important to the propagation of those plants that are now threatened, shouldn't they have become extinct sooner?

    Well it's a gradual process really. Don't forget the moa went extinct very recently on a geological scale (in fact they are still technically considered our contemporaries), an evolutionary blink of an eye so to speak.

    Perhaps there were other creatures that filled the void? Also, were there no marsupials or any other large non insect creatures in NZ before the Maori arrived?

    The lack of other large terrestrial creatures is what allowed the birds to fill said ecological niches. Something similar happened with the dodo (a pigeon) on Mauritius. Haarst's eagle came to be their main predator.
    However, on the Australian mainland, Genyornis had to contend with Megalania prisca, the giant monitor lizard.
    exti-megalaniagenyornis-l.jpg
    Don't worry, the fight wasn't as one sided as that somewhat outdated (awesome as it is) picture depicts. Recent discoveries show that Genyornis had a large crushing beak and may have been a powerful predator in it's own right.
    Here is a more accurate restoration:
    faq_rt_2.jpg
    Also, the Megalania wasn't quite as big as depicted, probably around one third the size. So if the two were drawn into a fight it could be quite epic.


  • Closed Accounts Posts: 16,170 ✭✭✭✭ brianthebard


    I realise they only died out 1000 years ago or less, but generally if a plant depends on a specific creature to spread its seeds it dies out pretty quickly. Perhaps those types of plants have already died out and the ones that are dying now had a few other options. Also, that is an awesome picture. I want another of the eagle picking up a Moa that would be super awesome. Birds are great. So how big was the monitor lizard then?


  • Registered Users Posts: 30,747 ✭✭✭✭ Galvasean


    I realise they only died out 1000 years ago or less, but generally if a plant depends on a specific creature to spread its seeds it dies out pretty quickly. Perhaps those types of plants have already died out and the ones that are dying now had a few other options.

    Well, the moas may not have been essential for the plants' short term survival, but perhaps very beneficial for the long run health of the plants.

    So how big was the monitor lizard then?

    Estimates vary. Early estimates described lenghts of over 6meters and weighing more than half a tonne. However, such estimates are widely believed to be overzealous. More conservative estimates now put it at about 4meters and under a quarter tonne in weight.
    However, re-analysis of isolated vertabrae in 2004 suggested that some individuals may have exceeded 7meters in lenght, perhaps even larger than original estimates.


  • Registered Users Posts: 30,747 ✭✭✭✭ Galvasean


    This documentary was shown on BBC on Wednesday night. i only caught a bit of it myself (darn work), but from the write ups I've read it sounded like a very good watch, intermingling footage shot recently with old stock footage of Attenborough when he visited Madagascar 50 years ago.
    Basically the goal of the documentary was to investigate what caused the demise of the giant elephant bird (Aepyornis maximus. He came to this conclusion:
    "I doubt it was hunted to extinction – anyone who has seen an ostrich in a zoo knows that it has a kick which can open a man's stomach and an enraged elephant bird, many times the size of an ostrich, must have been a truly formidable opponent.

    "I suspect it was its egg. They may not have been able to tackle an adult bird, but they could have taken its eggs which would have been a huge source of food.

    "Even if the bird itself was held in awe or fear by the people here, it's unlikely the eggs were – and that would have meant the gradual disappearance of this unique giant."

    david574.jpg&sa=X&ei=8tZwTf6QBIqahQeUuMxA&ved=0CAQQ8wc&usg=AFQjCNGgQ09Mb2zlZWk8jqT9wZEdiq35rQ


  • Registered Users Posts: 8,551 Rubecula


    Fascinating show, I really enjoyed it. If you get the chance to see it right through I do recommend it. Madagascar is a fascinating place, I wouldn't mind going there one day.


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