Australia Once Had 6-Foot “Demon Ducks Of Doom” And Early Humans Stole Their Eggs

3 mins read
Image credit: Peter Trusler

A bird that was six feet tall and lay eggs consumed by Australia’s ancestors has now been identified by researchers, marking a significant step forward in the Great Egg Controversy that has lasted for the past 50,000 years.

Because of their massive size and close relationship to waterfowl, the prehistoric megafauna known as dromornithids and mihirungs is often called “demon ducks of doom.” Genyornis, the species of extinct megafauna that Genyornis studied, was responsible for the feast that ancient people enjoyed.

Genyornis, also known as the “Thunder Bird,” peaked at the height of two meters (six feet) and had very short wings compared to its large legs. It is believed that these birds strutted throughout Australia in flocks. Although the idea of a demon duck standing six feet tall is somewhat terrifying, these birds likely abstained from eating meat.

Instead, we humans were performing the eating, as was hypothesized following the discovery of charred remnants of old eggshells a few years ago. On the other hand, the finding of the shells spurred discussion about which bird actually lays the eggs our predecessors were consuming.

Why was it important to do so? Because the response might reveal whether or not humans were responsible for the extinction of one of the suspects, Genyornis, who, according to a prior study, was thought to be the egg layer.

After a study suggested that the burned shells’ forms and thickness made it a more likely Progura, often known as the “big malleefowl,” was presented as a possibility for the egg layer after research found that the burned shells’ shapes and thickness made it a more plausible alternative than Genyornis. These birds, weighing between five and seven kilos, were more comparable to turkeys (11 to 15 pounds).

Recent articles published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences only had fossilized eggshells to work with to differentiate between the two. Still, thankfully, these ancient calcium carbonate egg casings have survived over the previous 50,000 years.

The researchers could extract proteins from the ancient eggshells and correlate them to proteins found in current species, even though there was no genetic material to work with on the shells themselves.

This comparison demonstrated that whatever placed the eggs had already developed before the appearance of Progura, which indicates that Genyornis was responsible.

It appears that our ancestors’ theft rather than their practice of hunting and killing wild animals was more likely to cause the species’ demise than any other activity.

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