By Elton Gomes
A three-metre-tall ostrich-like creature that weighed approximately a ton has been classified as the world’s largest bird.
Vorombe titan, which literally means “big bird” in Malagasy and Greek, is an extinct flightless bird that once populated Madagascar. It is known to have survived on a plant-based diet.
By studying hundreds of elephant bird bones from museums around the world, researchers at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) now have a definitive answer to conflicting evidence over which winged creature was the largest in the world. The study was published in the journal named Royal Society Open Science.
The Vorombe titan was named by scientists from the Institute of Zoology, part of the international conservation charity Zoological Society of London.
The scientists discovered “new rigorous and quantitative evidence” that it was a species that differed from the Aepyornis Maximus, which was previously believed to be the world’s biggest bird.
In 1894, British scientist C.W. Andrews came across a specimen that was given the name Aepyornis titan. Thereafter, for several years, Aepyornis titan was believed to be the largest specimen belonging to Aepyornis Maximus and was also the largest bird in the world.
Vorombe Titan was believed to have roamed Madagascar
Vorombe titan, which would have lived in Madagascar, was unable to fly. It is the latest addition to the elephant bird family, which is an extinct group of colossal flightless birds that roamed Madagascar during the Later Quaternary period.
The gigantic creatures were last seen in the 17th century and were most likely driven to extinction by a combination of climate change, shifts in vegetation patterns, and humans’ pillaging of elephant bird eggs. A Vorombe titan egg was roughly equal to 150 chicken eggs in volume and could easily feed several families.
Vorombe titan was known to be so huge, that its average weight of 1,430 pounds (650 kg) is comparable to a small long-necked dinosaur that weighed about 1,500 pounds (690 kg), the study’s authors James Hansford and Samuel Turvey, wrote in the study, LiveScience reported.
Vorombe titan comes from kiwi, ostrich family
The towering bird is a close cousin of the now-extinct moa in New Zealand. The Vorombe titan belonged to the same family of flightless animals that today includes the kiwi, emu, and the ostrich.
Although the Vorombe titan was known to have the longest existence of any animal in Madagascar, the elephant bird became extinct around a millennia ago.
“You start to see large amounts of agricultural settlements and habitat change with the burning of forests… that seems to have driven all the megafauna in Madagascar, including the elephant bird, to extinction,” the study’s author James Hansford said, AFP reported.
What are elephant birds?
Elephant birds (belonging to the family Aepyornithidae) are an extinct group of colossal flightless birds that roamed Madagascar during the Late Quaternary.
Having detailed information about elephant birds is important because, like other megafauna, they have played an important role in Madagascar’s ecosystem, in that they controlled vegetation by eating plants and spread seeds through defecation.
It is said that the birds’ extinction is still having an impact on the island. “Without an accurate understanding of past species diversity, we can’t properly understand evolution or ecology in unique island systems such as Madagascar or reconstruct exactly what’s been lost since human arrival on these islands,” the study’s author Samuel Turvey said in a statement, the Smithsonian reported. Turvey further said, “Knowing the history of biodiversity loss is essential to determine how to conserve today’s threatened species.”
Elton Gomes is a staff writer at Qrius
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