The ancient "terror bird" Andalgalornis couldn't fly, but it used its unusually large, rigid skull--coupled with a hawk-like hooked beak--in a fighting strategy reminiscent of boxer Muhammad Ali.
The agile creature repeatedly attacked and retreated, landing well-targeted, hatchet-like jabs to take down its prey, according to results of a new study published this week in the journal PLoS ONE.
The study is the first detailed look at the predatory style of a member of an extinct group of large, flightless birds known scientifically as Phorusrhacids but popularly labeled "terror birds" because of their fearsome skull and often imposing size.
Terror birds evolved about 60 million years ago in isolation in South America, an island continent until the last few million years, radiating into about 18 known species ranging in size up to the 7-foot-tall (2.1 meters) Kelenken.
Because terror birds have no close analogs among modern-day birds, their life habits have been shrouded in mystery, according to William Zamer, acting deputy director of the National Science Foundation (NSF)'s Division of Integrative Organismal Systems, which funded the research.
Now, a multinational team of scientists has performed the most sophisticated study to date of the form, function and predatory behavior of a terror bird, using CT scanning and advanced engineering methods.
"No one has ever attempted such a comprehensive biomechanical analysis of a terror bird," said study lead author Federico Degrange of the Museo de La Plata/CONICET in Argentina.
"We need to figure out the ecological role these amazing birds played if we really want to understand how the unusual ecosystems of South America evolved over the past 60 million years."
The terror bird under study is called Andalgalornis and lived in northwestern Argentina about six million years ago. It was a mid-sized terror bird, standing about 4.5 fe
|Contact: Cheryl Dybas|
National Science Foundation