August 30, 2013 | David F. Coppedge

Fearsome-Looking Terror Bird May Have Been Vegan

You can’t judge a book by it’s cover.  In the same way, you can’t assume a large extinct bird with a huge beak was a terror-raising predator.

Scientists have judged the so-called Terror Bird (Gastornis, formerly Diatryma) by its large, sharp beak and two-meter height.  They imagined it hunting down small mammals trying to evolve after the extinction of the dinosaurs some 55 to 40 million years ago.  Science Daily said,

“The terror bird was thought to have used its huge beak to grab and break the neck of its prey, which is supported by biomechanical modelling of its bite force,” says Dr Thomas Tütken, from the University of Bonn. “It lived after the dinosaurs became extinct and at a time when mammals were at an early stage of evolution and relatively small; thus, the terror bird was though [sic] to have been a top predator at that time on land.”

Now, however, a new study of its bones shows it was probably a herbivore.  German scientists measured isotopes in the bones of a specimen and found that “the calcium isotope compositions of terror bird bones are similar to those of herbivorous mammals and dinosaurs and not carnivorous ones,” they announced at the Goldschmidt Conference in Florence Aug. 29.  Additional work will be needed to confirm the new conclusion.  Will it be renamed the Peace Bird?

This report about a German fossil concurs with one last year (11/23/12) based on evaluation of the beak, claws and legs of an American species.  It’s an ongoing warning to avoid jumping to conclusions by initial impressions or preferences: as one scientist admitted last year, “Let’s be honest: scary, fierce meat-eaters attract a lot more attention than gentle herbivores.”

 

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Categories: Amazing Facts, Birds, Fossils

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