Making a Difference 2019-2020


Australasian palaeontologists, with ARC funding support, have discovered the world's largest parrot from a fossil deposit in Central Otago, New Zealand. The new bird has been named Heracles inexpectatus to reflect its Herculean myth-like size and strength—and the unexpected nature of the discovery. The fossil is approximately the size of the giant ‘dodo’ pigeon of the Mascarenes, and twice the size of the critically endangered flightless New Zealand kakapo, previously the largest known parrot. The researchers estimate Heracles to have stood one metre tall, weighing about seven kilograms, and believe that with a massive beak able to crack most food sources, it may have dined on more than conventional parrot foods, perhaps even on other parrots. The experts include Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) recipient, Associate Professor Trevor Worthy from Flinders University, as well as colleagues at The University of New South Wales and Canterbury Museum in New Zealand.

The fossil deposit that the researchers are slowly working through contains the remains of many terrestrial birds, and other animals that lived in New Zealand since the time of the dinosaurs. Professor Worthy says that they are likely to unearth many more surprises and new species. NEW ZEALAND IS WELL KNOWN TO PALAEONTOLOGISTS FOR ITS GIANT BIRDS, INCLUDING MOAS, GIANT GEESE, ADZEBILLS, AND A GIANT EAGLE, BUT UNTIL NOW NO-ONE HAS EVER FOUND AN EXTINCT GIANT PARROT.

(Top): Reconstruction of the giant parrot Heracles, dwarfing a bevy of 8cm high Kuiornis—small New Zealand wrens scuttling about on the forest floor. Illustration by Dr Brian Choo, Flinders University. (Left): Graphic showing the Heracles inexpectatus silhouette next to an average height woman and common magpie. Credit: Professor Paul Scofield, Canterbury Museum.



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