Monday, 30 November 2009

Mascot candidate 2; giant flightless birds

Phorusrhacids or terror birds were giant flightless aves that ate meat, living after the dinosaurs (62-2 million years ago). They were the top predators in South America. When it collided with North America some migrated up into this new continent.

The majority of terror birds became extinct due to the introduction of northern predators like the sabre toothed cats and wolves, however they were still efficient predators.

They were built for speed and agility, growing to 3 meters in height, with big hooked beaks and sharp talons these animals could outrun and easily kill a human. These beastly birds had an average speed of 60 miles/hour and were a force to be reckoned with. Their main weapon was their talons, which could deliver a nasty kick. These animals probably hunted in open grasslands where prey was fast and agile. Their incredible height enabled them to scan far and wide in search of food.

Terror birds aren't exactly albatross, but since they are big and scary birds they should be considered as a mascot for my blog. Big, scary and feathery.

There has been a lot of debate as to whether or not terror birds had claws on their arms or not. This theory is based on the fact that the carpometacarpus had a flexible joint with the alula, suggesting a prehensile thumb with a claw, however no claw has ever been found and other birds without claws also possess this feature. Until we can be certain of the hand anatomy I am not jumping to any conclusions.

Another giant flightless bird was Diatryma (also called Gastornis), a gigantic 2 meter tall behemoth. It lived 56-41 million years ago and was distantly related to modern ducks. There is much controversy surrounding this beast. It is popularly argued as a carnivore (the idea of a giant killer duck is appealing), but when looking at the skull the beak was blunt and not hooked like birds of prey today.
Others argue that if it was herbivorous it would not have needed such a large head, and therefore must have been predatory. I disagree. A gigantic head is a useful when cracking nuts and seeds. Competition with other large herbivores at the time may also have encouraged gigantism in this bird.

There is a lack of other large carnivores in the areas Diatryma occupied. Therefore I still keep an open mind on the subject of its diet. It may yet prove to be carnivorous.

Diaryma as a mascot, I think not, too soft for me, but still an awesome animal. A parrot on steroids.

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