Paleontologists have found the fossil of a 3-foot-tall carnivorous parrot. They nicknamed it 'Squawkzilla.'

giant parrot

  • 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).
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

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.Advertisement

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.
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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'

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Squawkzilla was more than twice as heavy as the current king of parrots: the New Zealand kakapo, which is thought to be the largest parrot in the world. But despite its size, Squawkzilla couldn't fly. Rather, it scuttled about the forest floor.

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.Advertisement

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.

kakapo

"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.Advertisement

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.Advertisement

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