STL Science Center

STL Science Center

02 December 2015

Strange Ideas

There was a hypothesis once that Titanis, and other Phorusrhacids, may have had a theropod-like claws at the end of their wings. This hypothesis came to light because the writs was considered to be extremely rigid and supposedly lacked the ability to fold against the body like a traditional wing. However, extant "terror birds", the seriemas of South America, do not possess a clawed manus at the end of their wings despite a largely unchanged wing and wrist. In fact, looking at a seriema is in a way looking at a scaled down, though no less vicious, version of their ancestors of the past. These living birds possess short wings and elect to fly-hop when they do leave the ground, which is rare. The idea that Titanis may have had wings weak enough to restrict flight but strong enough to allow for fly-hopping to slightly higher structures makes the speedy predator slightly more frightening as it adds a vertical component to its domain. Aside from obstacle avoidance, such an ability would have probably been most useful in nesting habits and, though its weight would have likely been too much for a typical branch, the bird could have built enormous nests that required fly-hopping to gain the apex of. The idea of a bird that large flying even an insignificant distance vertically is nearly preposterous though, and in all likelihood Titanis never left the ground on purpose. Regardless, the North American terror bird was more than capable of inflicting damage on prey items without clawed hands or the ability to chase other animals into trees.

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