The largest bird that ever walked on Earth is a newly identified species of elephant bird. Researchers of a new study revealed that the creature weighed as much as a dinosaur when it walked around the island of Madagascar more than 1,000 years ago.
Researchers said that the now extinct bird stood 3 meters high, or 20 centimeters taller than the modern day ostrich when it was still alive.
Its weight, which can reach up to 800 kilograms, is also equivalent to as much as seven ostriches and roughly a small long-necked sauropod called Europasaurus, which weighed about 690 kilograms.
Elephant birds are an extinct group of large flightless birds that lived in Madagascar during the Late Quaternary.
James Hansford, from the Zoological Society of London, said that elephant birds are one of the most important megafaunas in Madagascar’s evolutionary history because of their enormous impact on the ecosystem.
These creatures controlled vegetation by eating plants, spreading biomass, and dispersing seeds through defecation. Hansford said that Madagascar still suffers from the effects of these birds’ extinction today.
Up until now, scientists thought that there were only up to 15 different species of elephant birds, which were divided between two different genera, or groups of species.
Hansford and colleagues, however, discovered that the taxonomy of elephant birds are spread across three genera and at least four different species namely Aepyornis maximus, Mulleornis modestus, Aepyornis hildebrandti, and the newly identified Vorombe titan.
They made the discovery after analyzing hundreds of bones of elephant birds from museums around the world.
“This is the first rigorous study of elephant birds in over 80 years and the first to incorporate the global collections of their skeletal remains in a quantitative framework, allowing the interpretation of their diversity,” Hansford told Newsweek.
The work also allowed the researchers to identify Vorombe titan as the largest-ever bird to walk on our planet. The name means “big bird” in Malagasy and Greek.
The colossal birds may already be extinct but the researchers said that their findings could have implications for current conservation efforts in Madagascar.
“The new taxonomic framework for the Aepyornithidae that we present here provides an important baseline for future studies of avian evolution and Quaternary ecology, and represents a new framework for understanding Madagascar’s past ecosystems and reconstructing extinction chronologies for the island’s unique and fascinating megafauna,” the researchers wrote in their study, which was published in the Royal Society Open Science on Sept. 26.