Terror bird’s beak was worse than its bite: ‘Terror bird’ was probably a herbivore

Terror bird’s beak was worse than its bite: ‘Terror bird’ was probably a herbivore

Analysis of fossilized remains of the two meter tall terror bird (Gastornis) indicate that was unlikely to have been a carnivore.

via ScienceDaily: Top Science News:

Aug. 29, 2013 — It’s a fiercely debated question amongst palaeontologists: was the giant ‘terror bird’, which lived in Europe between 55 to 40 million years ago, really a terrifying predator or just a gentle herbivore?New research presented at the Goldschmidt conference in Florence today (Thursday 29th August) may finally provide an answer. A team of German researchers has studied fossilised remains of terror birds from a former open-cast brown coal mine in the Geiseltal (Saxony-Anhalt, Germany) and their findings indicate the creature was most likely not a meat eater.The terror bird — also known as Gastornis — was a flightless bird up to two metres in height with an enormous, ferocious beak. Based upon its size and ominous appearance, scientists have long assumed that it was a ruthless carnivore.”The terror bird was thought to have used its huge beak to grab and break the neck of its prey, which is supported by biomechanical modelling of its bite force,” says Dr Thomas Tütken, from the University of Bonn. “It lived after the dinosaurs became extinct and at a time when mammals were at an early stage of evolution and relatively small; thus, the terror bird was though to have been a top predator at that time on land.”Recent research has cast some doubt on its diet, however. Palaeontologists in the United States found footprints believed to belong to the American cousin of Gastornis, and these do not show the imprints of sharp claws, used to grapple prey, that might be expected of a raptor. Also, the bird’s sheer size and inability to move fast has made some believe it couldn’t have predated on early mammals — though others claim it might have ambushed them. But, without conclusive findings either way, the dietary inclinations of Gastornis remain a mystery.Dr Tütken and his colleagues Dr Meinolf Hellmund, Dr Stephen Galer and Petra Held have taken a new geochemical approach to determine the diet of Gastornis. By analysing the calcium isotope composition in fossilised bones, they have been able to identify what proportion of a creature’s diet was plant or animal and, on that basis, their position in the food chain of the local ecosystem. This depends on the calcium isotopic composition becoming “lighter” as it passes through the food chain. …

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ScienceDaily: Top Science News

Terror bird’s beak was worse than its bite: ‘Terror bird’ was probably a herbivore

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