Giant 12-feet bird found in Crimean cave is thrice the size of an ostrich and weighs half a ton: Study
The intriguing bird may have been a source of meat, bones, feathers, and eggshell for early humans, according to a new study
The specimen of a 12-feet-tall bird—three times larger than an ostrich—has been discovered in Crimean cave. The finding is the first evidence that giant ostrich-like birds once roamed Europe.
Fossils of other animals found alongside the specimen helped date the fossil to 1.5 to 2 million years ago. The intriguing bird may have been a source of meat, bones, feathers, and eggshell for early humans, according to a new study.
The newly-discovered specimen, found in the Taurida Cave on the northern coast of the Black Sea, suggests a bird as giant as the Madagascan elephant bird or New Zealand moa.
The estimated body mass is 450 kg, say the researchers.
According to the research team, this “formidable weight” is nearly double the largest moa, three times the largest living bird—the common ostrich, and almost as much as an adult polar bear.
“This value makes this extinct bird one of the largest known avians (comparable to Aepyornis maximus) and the only bird of such giant size in Europe and the Northern Hemisphere in general,” says the team in their findings.
Researchers previously believed that such gigantism in birds only existed on the islands of Madagascar and New Zealand as well as Australia.
The surprising discovery, say the researchers, suggests that early Europeans lived alongside some of the largest ever known birds.
When the research team first felt the weight of the bird—as they held its thigh bone—they initially thought it could be a Malagasy elephant bird fossil because no birds of this size have ever been reported from Europe.
However, the structure of the bone unexpectedly told a different story.
The body mass of the bird was reconstructed using calculations from several formulae, based on measurements from the femur bone.
“Applying these formulae, the body mass of the bird was estimated to be around 450 kg. Such gigantism may have originally evolved in response to the environment, which was increasingly arid. Animals with a larger body mass have lower metabolic demands and can, therefore, make use of less nutritious food,” say the findings.
Although the species was previously known, no one ever tried to calculate the size of this animal.
The flightless bird, "attributed to the species Pachystruthio dmanisensis", was probably at least 3.5 meters tall and would have towered above early humans, say the researchers in their study.
They say that it may have been flightless, but it was also fast, adding that speed may have been essential to the survival of the bird.
The femur of the current bird—comparable to modern ostriches as well as smaller species of moa—was relatively long and slim, suggesting it was a better runner.
“Although similar in size to elephant birds, Pachystruthio differs from Aepyornis maximus and other large birds in having a relatively gracile and elongate femur, comparable to (although notably larger than) that of modern ostriches and smaller species of moa, aepyornithids, and phorusrhacids. The overall similarity to the modern ostrich indicates that Pachystruthio was a better runner,” says the paper.
The Taurida cave network was discovered last year when a new motorway was being built. Along with the bones of the bird, paleontologists also found fossils of highly-specialized, massive carnivores from the Ice Age. They included giant cheetah, giant hyenas and saber-toothed cats, which were able to prey on mammoths.
The study was published on June 26, in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.