Tuesday, August 17, 2010


I just love huge birds. Huge Ravens, Huge Eagles, Huge Hummingbirds. So obviously, gigantic extinct flightless creatures of awesome would also capture my interest. Too bad humans killed them all.. they went extinct in only a few hundred years ago. I should also mention that when I say Moa, I'm actually referring to eleven separate species within six genera.
Image from Zoological
Society of London / LiveScience

Like yesterday's gigantic insect, Moas inhabited New Zealand, where they evolved into giant, flightless creatures because there were no land mammals (aside from bats) to compete with. The Moas only predator (until man) was the similarly gigantic Haast's Eagle, now also extinct, but that had a 10ft wingspan.

The largest species of Moa stood 6ft tall at the back, and none of them had wings, even vestigial ones, which is very unique among birds. Feathers show that they were red and brown, and their eggs measured roughly 24cm in length. Because of their lack of predators, it is believed that Moas lived 50 years or more. Most species exhibited sexual dimorphism, with the females being larger and heavier than the males. Interestingly, the Moas closest relatives are not the extant flightless Kiwis, nor are they the Australian Cassowaries and Emus. Tinamous, smaller South American birds, are now said to be their nearest cousins.

The downfall of the Moa began around 1280CE, when people first inhabited the islands of New Zealand. The Mos were not used to these new hunters, and they became easy prey.  Their habitats were diminished, and they were hunted for their meats and bones. By the 1400s, they were believed to be extinct. Carbon-14 testing supports that timeline, though hunters claimed to have spotted Moas for several hundred years after. Even today, there are individuals who claim to see Moas.

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