Jan Bartek – AncientPages.com –  The discovery of a prehistoric “giant goose” skull in Australia sheds light on an extraordinary extinct species. This fossil belongs to the Genyornis newtoni, a massive flightless bird that weighed an astonishing 230kg (36 stone), approximately five times the weight of an emu.

Remarkably, the 45,000- to 50,000-year-old skull is the most complete specimen ever uncovered, providing invaluable insights into this remarkable avian giant’s anatomy and evolutionary history.

Rare Find Of An Unusual Prehistoric 'Giant Goose' In Australia

The avian species known as Newton’s thunder bird (Genyornis newtoni) bore a striking resemblance to a colossal goose and inhabited the wetland regions of the ancient Australian continent approximately 50,000 years in the past. Its imposing stature and distinctive appearance would have been a remarkable sight to behold in that primordial era.
Credit: Kacob C. Blockland

“Realising it was an intact skull was just so satisfying,” lead author of the study, Dr Phoebe McInerney, of Flinders University, Adelaide, said.

“I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, this is amazing – we actually found one’.

A 32cm (1ft) skull was found in 2019 in the dry beds of Lake Callabonna, a remote inland region of South Australia where thousands of animals once became trapped in the mud. Remarkably, the skull was attached to the bird’s almost complete fossilized body.

This find is particularly important as the only other known skull for this species, reported in 1913, was heavily damaged and had only a small amount of the original bone remaining, limiting the information that could be gleaned from it. The well-preserved nature of this recent discovery provides researchers with a valuable opportunity to study and gain insights into this species.

According to Jacob Blokland, a vertebrate paleontologist at Flinders University, the new fossils reveal that while G. newtoni resembled its dromornithid cousins, a group of ancient flightless birds from Australia, its beak had a more gooselike appearance with a distinctive bump on the top of its bill. This feature may have been used for communication and sexual displays. Evidence suggests that G. newtoni likely fed on fruits and soft leaves, indicating a diet devoid of particularly coarse or tough plant matter.

The extinction of the Genyornis newtoni, a remarkable flightless bird species, is attributed to environmental changes and human impact. According to researchers, the area around Lake Callabonna, where these birds thrived, was once a wetland habitat.

However, as Australian lakes began to dry up and become more saline, survival became increasingly challenging for G. newtoni. Additionally, the arrival of humans on the continent approximately 65,000 years ago is believed to have played a role in the bird’s eventual demise. While the exact mechanisms are not fully understood, the combination of habitat loss and human presence likely contributed to the extinction of this magnificent avian species.

Dr. Gerald Mayr, an ornithologist at the Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt, stated that fossil bird skulls are “stunningly rare.” He further emphasized that this “extraordinary find” offers valuable insights into this giant bird’s role in the Australian ecosystem during that period. The discovery of such rare fossils provides researchers with crucial information to better understand avian species’ ecological dynamics and evolutionary history in ancient environments.

The study was published in the journal Historical Biology.

Written by Jan Bartek – AncientPages.com Staff Writer

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