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The World’s Largest Bird

You probably won’t have heard of it and with good reason, but the Vorombe titan has been declared the largest bird in the world.

At least it would be the largest if it hadn’t become extinct!

A distinct species of elephant bird, this enormous creature was native to Madagascar but disappeared some 1000 years ago and it isn’t entirely clear why the species died out. The Zoological Society of London (ZSL) have been busy studying hundreds of elephant bird bones stored at museums across the globe to settle the argument over which was the largest bird on the planet.

The varombe titan

The scientists involved in the study have found that the varombe titan was a separate species of elephant bird which was three metres tall and weighed a massive 860kg! It was a flightless bird which was widespread in Madagascar and which lived on a plant-based diet.

In 1894, the British scientist, CW Andrews, discovered a specimen which the latest research has now confirmed was a distinct species from other elephant birds. It possesses a body mass which would have rivalled several dinosaur species. However, the birds are thought to have been peaceful herbivores living mainly on a diet of fruit.

Varombe titans were so big that just one of their eggs could have provided a meal for an entire family, but the researchers haven’t found any evidence of their nests having been raided.

Evolution and the eco system

Elephant birds were a very important aspect of Madagascar’s ecosystem and its evolutionary history. The larger species on he island had a huge impact on the wider ecosystem and the control of vegetation. They also spread biomass and dispersed seeds through their waste. Scientists feel that Madagascar continues to suffer as a result of losing the giant birds.

A previous study by a team of ZSL scientists found that the ancient bones from the extinct Madagascan elephant birds featured cut marks and fractures. These were consistent with hunting and butchery by prehistoric humans.

Informing human history

Radiocarbon dating has revealed when the birds to which the bones belonged had been killed. This led to a reassessment of when people first reached the island of Madagascar. Research on lemur bones and archaeological artefacts had suggested that humans first arrived in Madagascar between 2,400 and4,000 years ago. But the evidence gathered from the elephant birds demonstrates that humans were present on the island more than 6,000 years earlier than this.

A greater understanding of extinct species enables scientists to unravel the mysteries of evolution on islands such as Madagascar and to assess what has been lost since humans arrived. This knowledge may be able to help us to prevent the loss of further species in the future.

Wouldn’t it have been fascinating to see elephant birds? Imagine encountering a bird that was 10 feet tall! The varombe titan would have dwarfed any birds which are around today and would have been a magnificent and fascinating sight. By the way, if you were wondering what varombe means, it translates as big bird!


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