Fossils of Largest Ever Parrot Found in Otago

The fossils of an enormous parrot, estimated to have weighed about 7kg, have been found near Saint Bathans in Central Otago. The Guardian reports on the discovery.

Palaeontologists have named the new species Heracles inexpectatus – which would have been more than twice as heavy as the kākāpo, previously the largest known parrot – to reflect its unusual size and strength and the unexpected nature of the discovery, the newspaper reports.

Prof Trevor Worthy of Flinders University in Australia, the lead author of the research published in the journal Biology Letters, said: “Once we decided it was something new and interesting, the challenge was to figure out what family it was from.

“Because no giant parrots have been found previously, parrots were not on our radar – thus it took some time to differentiate all other birds essentially from parrots to conclude that the unique suite of characters was definitive of a parrot.”

Paul Scofield, a senior curator of natural history at Canterbury Museum, told the UK publication that the fossil had been excavated in 2008, and initially the team had thought the bones were part of a giant eagle.

The bones, which will go on display at an exhibition in November, were found in a fossil deposit dating from the early Miocene epoch, about 19m years ago.

Scofield said the parrot’s weight meant there was a possibility it was flightless. Although the bird’s diet is unknown, he noted most parrots today are vegetarian.

“But as animals get larger, they become predatory,” he said. “It was so large it would have required a considerable amount of calories per day.”

Ecosystems on islands frequently produce large, unusual, often flightless birds – for example, the kiwi of New Zealand and the dodo of Mauritius. New Zealand has produced a particularly large number of such species due to its large size, complex ecosystem and lack of predators.

Original article by Anna Ploszajski and Lisa Martin, The Guardian, August 7, 2019.

Photo by Brian Choo/Flinders University.

Tags: Biology Letters  Guardian (The)  Heracles inexpectatus  Kakapo  parrot  Paul Scofield  

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