Tuesday, May 17, 2011


Gastornis at the NMNH
Today's animal, which I encountered in a cast, skeletal form at the National Museum of Natural History, was actually a bit tricky to track down and research, since it goes by two different names. You see, the genus was first discovered in Europe in 1855, and given the name Gastornis. Fifteen years later, more complete fossils were found in North America, where they were named Diatryma. The fossils were called by the latter name for a while, but the name has now reverted back to Gastornis, due to the fact that that word came first.

Reconstruction with feathers
Well now that we got the naming trouble figured out, we can focus on some of the other aspects of this spectacular prehistoric bird. Like for example, they lived in the Paleocene and Eocene epochs, between 55-45 million years ago. Their fossils have been found in both Europe and North America.

Members of the Gastornis genus were quite large, standing as tall ad 6.5ft (2m). They were flightless birds like our modern Ratites, and they had huge, powerful legs and gigantic beaks. There is some debate over whether they were herbivores (using the beaks to crush nuts like Parrots do), or carnivores... though from my findings the carnivore theory is more popular, due to the talons on their feet. It is thought that they may have hunted in packs and ambushed prey.

One mystery surrounding Gastornis is what its feathers looked like. Some speculate that they had hair-like feathers akin to the Cassowary, but no fossil findings have confirmed or denied this so far.

Status :  Extinct since the Eocene Epoch, 45 million years ago
Location : Europe and North America
Size : Height up to 6.5ft (2m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : †Gastornithiformes
Family : †Gastornithidae -- Genus : †Gastornis

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