At about nine meters tall — half that neck — and weighing more than 300 pounds, ostriches are the largest birds on the planet today.
But once upon a time there was a much larger bird that roamed Madagascar before it died out roughly a thousand years ago: the elephant bird.
Scientists don’t know much about giant birds. But a recently published study Nature Communications reveals new details about their lives – through a new analysis of fossilized eggs.
“[Elephant birds] weighing well over a thousand pounds … they give birth to an egg that is about a half-foot in length, said Gifford Miller, a professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and one of the study’s co-authors.
Birds once had the ability to fly, Miller said. But when they landed in Madagascar, it is likely that they encountered a few predators, which evolved into birds that flew and flew in size.
“They have to have flexible DNA that allows them to grow large quickly. And they’re at a size where they can defend themselves against any natural predator that might come out,” Miller said.
Birds have remained something of a mystery to scientists because there is not much left to study.
“The fossil bones are quite diverse. There aren’t a lot of complete bones out there,” said Alice Grealy, a National Science Australia researcher and another co-author on the study.
So instead of bones, a team of fossilized eggshells is being developed, which are littered with sand and beaches throughout Madagascar today.
“It was pretty exciting,” Miller said. “We had a Malagasy guide with us all the time who could help us get around and deal with” [locals] that there may be a license in the land, and then to wander and discover it;
“Eggs are like shells. They’re so strong – they’re not fragile at all.”
The bird’s shells preserved DNA, as well as “stable isotopes,” atomic signatures that researchers used to study the birds’ diets.
Miller and Grealy’s team found preliminary evidence for an unknown bird species in northern Madagascar.
“That was kind of surprising because no skeletons were ever found there,” Gray said.
But what happened to the elephants and the birds?
Scientists say no one knows exactly why they disappeared. But they disappeared sometime after the first humans arrived in Madagascar, suggesting that some combination of hunting and habitat change might have made predatory humans so that even birds could no longer match elephants.
#Giants #reveal #secrets #Madagascars #elephant #eggs #birds