Saturday, December 26, 2009

You think your bird is bad?

Do you? Maybe you have one of those giant female red tails that grabs jacks like candy. Possibly you are one of those eagle hawkers, hunting fox, or wolf, or even deer. But put into a historical perspective, all of these birds are quite tame.

Go back a few (million) years and birds ruled the earth. In the time of their dominance, the Miocene era, nothing could strike fear into the heart as well as a terror bird. Wikipedia describes them as:
a family of large carnivorous flightless birds that were the dominant predators in South America

And National Geographic has had a number of articles out about them. Yes they were flightless, and looked a bit like an ostrich on steroids, but I wouldn't want to meet on in a dark alley.

The real-life fossils belong to a new species of phorusrhacid, giant predators also known as terror birds that once dominated South America.

Terror birds were the biggest birds the world has ever seen, and the new species is by far the largest terror bird yet, says paleontologist Luis Chiappe, director of the Dinosaur Institute at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, California.

"Some of these birds had skulls that were two and a half feet [almost a meter] in length. [They] were colossal animals," he said.

The new, currently unnamed species stood about ten feet (three meters) tall and had a head as big as that of a horse.

The largest terror birds could likely swallow dog-size prey in a single gulp, experts say.

Early on scientist thought that these birds and humans may have lived at the same time. But fossil records indicate otherwise. It is believed that these birds may have been the ancestors of today's falcons, cranes, and parrots via a small bird called the Seriema.

But older birds were even badder.

The old adage says that size is not everything. If you trace the fossil record back past the Miocene, past the Cenozoic, all the way to the Cretacious, you can find a bird with real bite.

These birds, who were alive during the time of the dinosaurs, were flighted and feathered. They most likely preyed on smaller birds and animals, but what made them so unusual were the particular grooves in their teeth.

"When we were looking at Sinornithosaurus, we realized that its teeth were unusual," Larry Martin, a professor and curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Natural History Museum and Biodiversity Institute at the University of Kansas in Lawrence and paper co-author, said in a prepared statement. "Then we began to look at the whole structure of the teeth and jaw, and at that point, we realized it was similar to modern-day snakes." Like many rear-fanged snakes, these dinosaurs might have used grooved teeth—rather than hollow ones—to deliver venom into their victims' wounds.

Though this bird was smaller than the terror birds that would come later, it would have been just as deadly on its prey. Scientific American goes on to say:

This diabolical dromaeosaur was closely related to the gliding Microraptor gui, and the paper authors highlight its avian qualities: "This thing is a venomous bird for all intents and purposes," Martin said. The Sinornithosaurus was about the size of a turkey but had a taste for meat and perhaps even a stealthy hunting strategy.

So there, just to put things in perspective; You may have the baddest bird on the block, but compared to birds of old, ours of today are humbled.

Does your bird stand ten feet tall? - no.

Can your bird inject venom into its prey? - no.

But on the bright side -

your bird isn't extinct.


steveo_uk said...

i bet manning them was fun though !

Doug said...