March 30, 2016 11:47pm
Clare PeddieThe Advertiser
A GIANT flightless bird, once thought to be an “overgrown, scaled-up mallee fowl”, has turned out to be something “unique”,
Flinders University Professor Mike Lee, based at the SA Museum, helped reconstruct the long-extinct big bird’s family tree.
“Before, we thought ‘OK, it’s just an overgrown, scaled-up mallee fowl’,” he said.
“Whereas our research shows that this bird that went extinct when humans arrived was a lot more unique than people thought, it was evolving for tens of millions of years on its own evolutionary trajectory before it was snuffed out with human arrival.”
The research team studied ancient bones of the
bird (Sylviornis neocaledoniae),
which died out about 2500 years ago. Pacific Islands
They found it grew 80cm tall, weighed 30kg and had feet like a chicken.
“We can say it almost certainly didn’t incubate its eggs in the same way as mallee fowl, by digging a big mound of earth and all of that,” Professor Lee said.
“Sure enough, it was just a normal chicken foot, it wasn’t the big spade-like mallee fowl foot that mallee fowl use to shovel up all the rotting vegetation and earth into a big mound.”
Flinders University PhD student Miyess Mitri created an artist’s reconstruction of what the bizarre giant fowl would have looked like in real life.