A giant, flying turkey as tall as a kangaroo once called Australia home almost 12,000 years ago. .
The bird is one of five extinct large megapode birds discovered by researchers from Flinders University.
Megapodesare chicken-like birds that bury their eggs so they hatch.
The big birds lived during the Pleistocene which lasted from around 2,588,000 to 11,700 years ago. Other giant extinct marsupials such as Australia’s diprotodons, marsupial lions and short-faced kangaroos also lived during this period.
“These discoveries are quite remarkable because they tell us that more than half of Australia’s megapodes went extinct during the Pleistocene, and we didn’t even realise it until now,” says Flinders PhD candidate and researcher Elen Shute.
Unlike their modern-day relatives, none of these giant megapodes built mounds because they lacked the large feet and specialised claws seen in mound-builders.
It’s more likely that they buried their eggs in warm sand or soil, like some living megapodes in Indonesia and the Pacific.
The new findings challenge a previous theory that giant megapodes were a single species that dwarfed to become the modern Malleefowl.
“We have found bones of Malleefowl in fossil deposits up to a million years old, alongside bones of three extinct species of various sizes, so there’s really no evidence that dwarfing took place,” Ms Shute says.
Two of the new species come from the Thylacoleo Caves beneath the Nullarbor Plain. These caves, discovered 15 years ago, have proved to be a treasure trove of new species.
“So far the Thylacoleo Caves have yielded seven new species of kangaroo, a frog, two giant ground-cuckoos, and now two new megapodes,” says researcher Gavin Prideaux.
“The closer we look, the more we keep finding.”
Read more about these giant creatures here. Story credit: Flinders University newsroom.
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