Giant fossil's 'bird-brain' – EurekAlert


IMAGE: Whereas the bones of those large flightless birds are comparatively widespread within the fossil report, their skulls are extraordinarily uncommon. Probably the most full cranium identified, from Dromornis planei, was found…
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Credit score: Flinders College

The biggest flightless fowl ever to dwell weighed in as much as 600kg and had a whopping head about half a metre lengthy – however its mind was squeezed for house.

Dromornis stirtoni, the most important of the ‘mihirungs’ (an Aboriginal phrase for ‘large fowl’), stood as much as 3m excessive and had a skull wider and better than it was lengthy because of a robust huge beak, main Australian palaeontologists to look inside its mind house to see the way it labored.

The brand new examine, simply printed within the journal Variety, examined the brains of the extinct large mihirungs or dromornithid birds that had been a particular a part of the Australian fauna for a lot of hundreds of thousands of years, earlier than going extinct round 50,000 years in the past.

“Along with their giant, forward-facing eyes and really giant payments, the form of their brains and nerves instructed these birds possible had well-developed stereoscopic imaginative and prescient, or depth notion, and ate up a eating regimen of soppy leaves and fruit,” says lead writer Flinders College researcher Dr Warren Handley.

“The form of their brains and nerves have advised us so much about their sensory capabilities, and one thing about their potential way of life which enabled these exceptional birds to dwell within the forests round river channels and lakes throughout Australia for a particularly very long time.

“It is thrilling after we can apply trendy imaging strategies to disclose options of dromornithid morphology that had been beforehand fully unknown,” Dr Handley says.

The brand new analysis, based mostly on fossil stays starting from about 24 million years in the past to the final within the line (Dromornis stirtoni), signifies mihirung brains and nerves are most like these of contemporary day chickens and Australian mallee fowl.

“The unlikely fact is these birds had been associated to fowl – chickens and geese – however their closest cousin and far of their biology nonetheless stays a thriller,” says vertebrate palaeontologist and senior writer Affiliate Professor Trevor Worthy.

“Whereas the brains of dromornithids had been very totally different to any fowl dwelling at the moment, it additionally seems they shared an analogous reliance on good imaginative and prescient for survival with dwelling ratities corresponding to ostrich and emu.”

The researchers in contrast the mind buildings of 4 mihirungs – from the earliest Dromornis murrayi at about 24 million years in the past (Ma) to Dromornis planei and Ilbandornis woodburnei from 12 Ma and Dromornis stirtoni, at 7 Ma.

Starting from cassowary in dimension to what’s often called the world’s largest fowl, Flinders vertebrate palaeontologist Affiliate Professor Worthy says the most important and final species Dromornis stirtoni was an “excessive evolutionary experiment”.

“This fowl had the most important cranium however behind the huge invoice was a bizarre skull. To accommodate the muscle tissue to wield this large invoice, the skull had turn into taller and wider than it was lengthy, and so the mind inside was squeezed and flattened to suit.

“It might seem these large birds had been most likely what evolution produced when it gave chickens free reign in Australian environmental circumstances and they also turned very totally different to their kinfolk the megapodes – or chicken-like landfowls which nonetheless exist within the Australasian area,” Affiliate Professor Worthy says.

The big, flightless birds Dromornithidae – additionally referred to as demon geese of doom or thunder birds – existed from the Oligocene to Pleistocene Epochs.

Throughout prehistory, the physique sizes of eight species of dromornithids turned bigger and smaller relying local weather and obtainable feed.

The Flinders researchers used the skulls of fossil birds to extract endocasts of the brains to explain how these associated to trendy birds corresponding to megapodes and waterfowl. Mind fashions had been additionally made out of CT scans of 5 different dromornithid skulls from fossil websites in Queensland and the Northern Territory. The oldest 25 Ma Dromornis murrayi specimen was discovered within the famed Riversleigh World Heritage Space in Queensland.


The paper, ‘Endocranial Anatomy of the Large Extinct Australian Mihirung Birds (Aves, Dromornithidae)’ by WD Handley and TH Worthy has been printed in Variety, 13(3), 124; DOI: 10.3390/d13030124.

Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are usually not chargeable for the accuracy of stories releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing establishments or for using any data by the EurekAlert system.

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