STL Science Center

STL Science Center

26 December 2015

Forgetting Feathers

Image courtesy of Museon; Den Haag, Nederland
Instead of looking at different feather patterns in different illustrations of Aepyornis the art for Saturday focuses much more on the morphological characteristics of the Elephant Birds. A bird weighing as much as a Polar Bear is an interesting animal no matter what shape it may be presented in. However, Aepyornis is shaped in a very familiar way to other large terrestrial birds; not surprisingly Aepyornis looks very much like other ratites, especially ostriches. Like ostriches, Elephant Birds possess large feet that are mostly held flat on the ground and atrophied wings. The wings are not entirely absent from the giant birds, but at almost 3 m (10 ft) tall, the wings would not be of much use in getting off the ground unless they were significantly larger than they are. The large feet compensate by providing significant thrust and allowing the bird to move briskly along the ground. Aepyornis possessed legs far too robust to be as gracile as other ratites and an ostrich or an emu could easily outpace the large bird despite having slightly shorter legs. Instead, the Elephant Bird was much more likely to use its legs like those of cassowaries; kicking another animal with force and standing their ground would be more likely occurrences than outrunning predators. A 3 m bird would not have many predators, especially on Madagascar, once full grown. However, like most ratites, it also would not likely have been a predator, even though it could have easily been an apex predator on Madagascar. There were other birds that may have taken on that duty in their stead.

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