Scientists unearth more of Australia’s deadly wildlife during the Pleistocene era; Study explains how diverse giant birds were

By @ritwikroy1985 on
Turkey
A turkey looks around its barn at Seven Acres Farm in North Reading, Massachusetts, U.S. November 23, 2016, one day before the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States. Reuters/Brian Snyder

If latest reports are to be believed, Australia once had turkeys as big as kangaroos. This was discovered after a team of researchers from Flinders University in South Australia analysed bones and fossils from around the country.

The palaeontologists believe that such large birds once roamed freely Down Under and ruled Australian treetops. The analysis by the researchers revealed five extinct bird species. They were all relatives to modern day’s brush-turkeys and malleefowl. These unearthed megapode birds roamed Australia during the Pleistocene era between 1.6 million and 10,000 years ago. Other Australian animals that roamed during this period are marsupial lions, short-faced kangaroos and diprotodons.

The study has been published in the Journal of Royal Society Open Science, and it explains how diverse the giant birds were. Human interaction and climate change are now believed to have caused their extinction. Lead author Elen Shute stated that the discoveries of these bird species is absolutely remarkable as they indicate that more than half of the Australian megapodes became extinct during the Pleistocene period. The discovery has been made after the Curramulka Quarry fossils, discovered in 1990 in Southern Australia, were analysed further.

These massive turkeys had “nuggety” bodies but would still roost in treetops. They were likely omnivores, feeding on insects, small reptiles and plants. They lived on treetops as it is possible that they lacked feet for digging mounds like their modern relatives. These turkeys had the ability to fly unlike their flightless cousins. This was made possible due to their thin bone structure and weight. They weighed only eight kilograms.

Australia has a massive list of deadly animals, insects and plants. A few million years ago, the country was even more dangerous. “It's been quite surprising because whereas before, we suspected there may have been one or two extinct species whose identity was uncertain, we've actually discovered that there were five different species running around Australia prior to humans arriving on the continent,” Shute told the National Geographic.

Australia houses some of the world’s most dangerous and deadly wildlife, from the great white shark to the blue ring octopus. Back then, the Australian landscape was infested with terrifying reptiles, enormous birds, megafauna and flora. The newly found birds fall under two categories. One, the nuggety chickens with broad bodies and short legs, and two, the tall turkeys with long, slender legs. Stay tuned on IBT AU for more updates on Science topics across the world. [In Case You Missed: Studies on sex in space vital for space-faring humans; It’s a key component on Mars colonisation]