Paleontologists have found the fossil of a 3-foot-tall carnivorous parrot. They nicknamed it 'Squawkzilla.'
- Paleontologists have identified a fossil of the world's largest parrot, which weighed 15 pounds and stood 3 feet high, in New Zealand.
- They nicknamed it "Squawkzilla."
- The 19-million-year-old mega-parrot had a curved beak, which it may have used to hunt and eat other parrots (in addition to its typical diet of fruits and seeds).
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Paleontologists have identified the fossil of an extinct parrot the size of a preschooler.
This flying behemoth, which the researchers nicknamed "Squawkzilla," stood 3 feet tall and weighed about 15 pounds.Its giant beak may have enabled Squawkzilla to eat whatever it pleased, meat or plant - perhaps even other parrots.
Researchers discovered two leg bones from the bird in 2008 near St. Bathans on New Zealand's South Island. The bones, however, were initially misidentified as belonging to an extinct giant eagle.
But, Ellen Mather, a graduate student at Flinders University, decided to re-evaluate the specimen more than a decade after it was unearthed. In a new study published in the journal Biology Letters, a team of researchers reported that the bones, which are thought to be between 16 and 19 million years old, came from to the largest parrot ever found in the fossil record.
They named the bird Heracles inexpectacus, after the Greek demigod and the unexpected nature of the discovery.
Tall enough to 'pick lint from your belly button'
Michael Archer, a co-author of the new study, told NPR that the giant parrot was tall enough to be "able to pick the lint out of your bellybutton."
The mega-parrot joins a legacy of giant birds in Oceania's fossil record. Because New Zealand is cut off from other land masses, few predators could reach the islands. That left the evolutionary door open for creatures like Squawkzilla to thrive and grow there.
Before Homo sapiens arrived on the islands, New Zealand was home to the flightless moa, a bird that reached heights of 7 feet, and its primary predator, the 40-pound Haast's eagle, which boasted a 10-foot wingspan.
An unconventional diet
Squawkzilla, like its smaller parrot counterparts, probably dined mostly on low-lying vegetation like seeds, nuts, and berries. But the study authors suspect its diet might also have included meat.
"Heracles, as the largest parrot ever, no doubt with a massive parrot beak that could crack wide open anything it fancied, may well have dined on more than conventional parrot foods, perhaps even other parrots," Archer said in a press release.
Other parrots, like the kea in New Zealand, have similarly carnivorous tendencies. Keas have been known to dive-bomb unsuspecting sheep and carve chunks of flesh off their backs, Archer said. There's also anecdotal evidence from more than a century ago that keas attacked rabbits, dogs, and even horses.
The researchers behind the study noted that often, when birds on isolated islands get large, they tend to fill the ecological niches that mammals do on the mainland. In the case of this mega-parrot, that niche may have been as a predator."This was Squawkzilla. This was a potential horror that was maybe eating other parrots," Archer told National Geographic.