Giant bony-toothed bird fossil found
BIZARRE GIANT BONY-TOOTHED birds once soared over Australia, palaeontologists have discovered.
The Pelagornis, with a wingspan of 5m, was the largest flying animal to exist on Earth after the extinction of pterosaurs 65 million years ago.
Dated to five million years old, the fossil leg bone discovered in Beaumaris Bay in Melbourne, Victoria, by palaeontologist Erich Fitzgerald from Museum Victoria, gives new insight into the evolution of seabirds in Australia.
“Pelagornis is just one of Victoria’s long-lost marine megafauna, which included bus-sized sharks, giant penguins, killer sperm whales and dugongs. Life was larger back then,” said Erich in a statement.
Pelagornis is part of the Pelagornithidae family, a group of ancient birds which sport a tooth-like projection on their beaks. “Bony-toothed birds are enigmatic extinct seabirds with a long history spanning over 50 million years,” Erich said. “They were previously known from all continents except Australia…We knew next to nothing about the evolution of seabirds in Australia [and] this finding shows us that there has been a significant change in seabird diversity between five million years ago and now.”
The giant bird can be added to Australia’s catalogue of extinct megafauna, another case of mysterious decline we do not yet understand.
“The extinction of these diverse large sea creatures was perhaps linked to long-term changes in their environment,” Travis Park, honours student at Deakin University and co-author of the paper, said in a statement. “The current coastal seas off southeast Australia are less nutrient-rich than previously [thought], and therefore no longer support as many large marine animals.”
Though there is much still to learn, the fossil gives us a glimpse into a time when southern Australian sea life was more spectacular – and a little stranger – than at present.
The findings were published this week in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.