Sunday, March 20, 2011

Upland Moa

Upland Moa Illustration by Peter Schouten
Phylum :Chordata
Class : Aves
Order : Struthioniformes
Family : †Dinornithidae
Genus : †Megalapteryx
Species : †M. didinus

Height : 4ft (1.3m)
Weight : 55lbs (25kg)

Status : Extinct since 1500CE

I feel like this might be a little bit of a cheat here, since I did actually cover Moas before, albeit in a very general fashion. Today though, I'll be talking about one specific species of Moa, the Upland Moa, which was the smallest of the species, as well as the last to go extinct.

Upland Moas, as the name suggests, lived in the higher, cooler elevations of New Zealand's South Island. One remarkable feature of this species is that they are the only Moas to have feathers all the way down their legs and feet. The feathers and their small size were adaptations to their cold weather environment.

Mummified Moa Head
How do we know about these feathers? Mummification of course! Because Upland Moas lived in such cold, dry habitats, their bodies have been subject to the process of natural mummification. We have examples of mummified Upland Moa heads and feet, which allow us to know more about the species than mere bones would. For example, we know from these specimens that Upland Moas had small olfactory chambers, which means that they may have had greater vocal skills then other Moas.

Their high elevation habitat is probably what allowed these birds to live longer then the other Moas. They only had one predator before the arrival or man, the Haast's Eagle, and due to their remote location it took humans longer to find and hunt them. They went extinct sometimes around 1500CE.

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