A Peck on The Cheek? Not From One of These...

29 October 2006
Posted by Chris Smith.

US fossil hunters have uncovered the largest bird skull ever found, and at 76cm long and belonging to a carnivore that stood three metres high, this is one bird from whom you wouldn't want a peck on the lips! Appropriately known as "terror birds" and resembling a very large secretary bird (which have an eagle's body on long crane-like legs) they were flightless, but fast runners. They lived in Patagonia until about 2 million years ago, were meat eaters, and first evolved shortly after the demise of the dinosaurs, about 65 million years ago. This enormous skull specimen is described in this week's edition of the journal Nature by Luis Chiappe and his colleagues. In their paper the researchers point out that whilst many smaller variants of these animals had been discovered prior to now, there are significant anatomical differences between this giant and the smaller species. As a result, previous attempts to reconstruct what these large birds would have looked like based on their smaller relatives, are quite wrong, and now the text books need updating!

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