Monday, 19 August, 2019

Researchers discover fossil of 'largest parrot ever' in New Zealand

Scientists discover fossils of giant parrot Child-sized parrot once prowled New Zealand forests
Sandra Phillips | 08 August, 2019, 04:22

Its fossils were found near the town of St Bathans in Central Otago, New Zealand, in an area known for its diverse collection of fossil birds. The team observed a series of features that can be uniquely attributed to psittaciformes, the avian order that includes parrots. New Zealand has produced a particularly large number of such species due to its large size, complex ecosystem and lack of predators. Within the isolated environment of the island, which large land predators could not reach, birds evolved to huge sizes and, in some cases, lost their ability to fly.

"It's something quite unique", said Jamie Wood, an extinct-bird researcher at Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research in Christchurch, New Zealand, who was not involved in the study. "Not only moa dominated avifaunas, but giant geese and adzebills shared the forest floor, while a giant eagle ruled the skies", he said. "Every fossil parrot that's been found so far is smaller than a kākāpō, yet this was twice the size".

The study notes gigantism is not uncommon on islands and specifically New Zealand, where scientists have been digging up the remains of outsized animals since the early 19th century, including giant moa which were wiped out after humans arrived there in the 14th century.

It's possible the bird had more carnivorous ways, like another New Zealand parrot, the kea, which has been known to attack and subsequently munch upon living sheep, the magazine reported.

He said the parrot's weight meant there was a possibility it was flightless.

"But until now, no one has ever found an extinct giant parrot - anywhere", associate professor Trevor Worthy from Flinders University said.

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Michael Archer, a co-author of the research and paleontologist at the University of New South Wales, told National Geographic that Heracles might have even been eating other parrots, giving way to a nickname: "Squawkzilla".

The parrot has been named Heracles inexpectatus to reflect its Herculean size and strength - and the unexpected nature of the discovery. But researchers suspect the bird also ate meat. And these birds are considerably smaller than Heracles inexpectatus.

According to Giaimo of the Times, the study authors plan to return St Bathans this year.

One of the reasons she gave is that bird bones are much less dense than mammal bones, making them more fragile and more likely to break down rather than fossilize.

'Its rarity in the deposit is something we might expect if it was feeding higher up in the food chain.

"We have been excavating these fossil deposits for 20 years, and each year reveals new birds and other animals", Worthy says.

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