Home / Press Release / Study confirms a giant 6-foot tall vegan flightless bird lived 50 million years ago

Study confirms a giant 6-foot tall vegan flightless bird lived 50 million years ago

The rumors of a giant bird species are confirmed by a team of scientists from the US and China, who revealed that a giant prehistoric bird with a head the size of a horse’s was wandering in a part of the high Antarctic region, around 50 million years ago. To be more precise, scientists said that these gigantic birds once roamed the Ellesmere Islands in the winter twilight.

Researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder and the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing have used a single available fossil toe bone of the bird, which is nearly a dead ringer to fossil toe bones from the huge bird discovered in Wyoming and which was also reported as a 50 million year old fossil.

This gigantic bird is also known as Gastornis (formerly Diatryma), which was 6-foot tall with several hundred pound weight. Although it had feathers and giant wings, it was a flightless bird wandering on the ground. Previously expected as a dangerous predator by most researchers, the new report reveals that it was a vegetarian bird which was using its huge beak to tear at foliage, nuts, seeds and hard fruit.

The fossil toe bone used in the reconstruction of the bird’s profile was discovered four decades ago by a team of paleontologists. According to the lead author of the research, the recent discovery of a giant bird’s fossil in Wyoming, China has prompted the scientists to further research on the ‘forgotten’ 40 year old toe bone.

“We knew there were a few bird fossils from up there, but we also knew they were extremely rare,” said CU-Boulder Associate Professor Jaelyn Eberle of geological sciences.

About 53 million years ago, Ellesmere island in the high Arctic wasn’t covered by snow, and its environment was somewhat similar to that of today’s cypress swamps in the Southeast US. Today, however, Ellesmere Island is one of the driest and coldest place on Earth with a temperature of around minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit in winter.

Describing about the similarity between the fossil found in Wyoming and the Ellesmere specimen, study’s co-author Professor Thomas Stidham of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, said, “I couldn’t tell the Wyoming specimens from the Ellesmere specimen, even though it was found roughly 4,000 kilometers (2,500 miles) to the north.”

The study paper has been published in the recent issue of Science Reports, a weekly journal from the publishers of Nature.

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