If you’re a fan of prehistoric animals, as most children grow up to be, you most likely know about the mega fauna that took hold of the land sometime between the dinosaurs’ extinction and our specie’s evolution. These animals pretty much included huge versions of today’s animals, such as the wooly mammoth, the dire wolf, the Procoptodon – a kangaroo ancestor, and Gastornis – the huge Arctic flightless herbivorous bird.
Gastornis and Presbyornis
Part of the mega fauna present on our planet some 53 million years ago, the Gastornis and the Presbyornis were two huge ground birds living in the Arctic. The two massive avian creatures were discovered as part of a project collaboration between the University of Colorado Boulder and the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Even though previous fossils were found in the Arctic, this major discovery comes from the fact that the creatures’ remains were found on the Canadian Arctic island of Ellesmere. Even more important is the fact that the experts found virtually no differences between the fossils they found on Ellesmere and those found in the Arctic despite being found 2,500 miles apart.
According to the team of experts participating in the study, the Gastornis was built pretty much like an NFL quarterback, being about six feet tall, weighing a few hundred pounds, and having a head the size of a modern day horse’s head.
Meanwhile, the Presbyornis looked pretty much like a combination between a larger duck or goose and a flamingo, smaller than the Gastornis, but with much longer and thinner legs.
Ellesmere, the Canadian Arctic
These new pieces of information help the team of scientists quite a lot, as they knew that there were a few bird fossils on Ellesmere, but they thought they were quite rare. With the island’s temperatures reaching negative 40 degrees Fahrenheit, bird fossils are generally pretty rare in the Arctic.
Despite this fact, the island has proven an invaluable fossil trove for paleontologists. First explored in the ‘70s, Ellesmere was found to be the home of countless mega animals, as well as other significant fossils like those of primates, fish, and even crocodilians.
Another interesting thing about the island is that despite it having temperatures close to those in the Arctic nowadays, it used to have a climate similar to that in southeastern United States. For this reason, experts are hoping that by using information they find about the island they can figure out exactly how climate change will effect places with freezing temperatures
Image source: Wikimedia