Aepyornis - A Giant Bird of Madagascar
- This link has an illustration of Aepyornis maximus. It shows the size of this bird in comparison with that of a human.
These links have fossil photos of Aepyornis.
Aepyornis is a genus of extinct birds that lived in Madagascar. The systematic paleontology of Aepyornis is:
Paleognathae Pycraft 1900
Aepyornithiformes A. Newton 1884
Aepyornithidae Bonaparte 1853
Aepyornis E. Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire 1851
Aepyornis maximus E. Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire 1851
A. medius Milne-Edwards and Grandidier 1866
A. hildebrandti Burckhardt 1893
A. gracilis Monnier 1913
They were definitely giants. Their maximum height is thought to have been about 10 feet (3 m.). The weight of Aepyornis is estimated at about 1 ton (454 kg.).
The eggs of Aepyornis were certainly large. Some have been with with a circumference of more than 1 meter. The remains of some eggs are 34 cm. long.
Aepyornis is classified as a member of Struthioniformes. That order includes ostriches, rheas, emus, kiwis, and the extinct Moa.
There has been some debate about how Aepyornis got to Madagascar. There is a theory that its ancestors reached Madagascar by way of a land bridge of the supercontinent Gondwana. However, there is also the idea that it was descended from flying birds that arrived in Madagascar and then became flightless.
It is not known when Aepyornis went extinct. Radiocarbon dating of a bone put the date of it at about 120 A.D. Some shells were also radiocarbon dated. The results put their dates at about 1000 A.D. A.F.A. Hawkins and S.M. Goodman discuss this on pp. 1019-1044 of their book The Natural History of Madagascar.
The cause of the extinction Aepyornis is not known, either. One theory is that humans hunted it to extinction. Another is that environmental changes sharply decreased the population of Aepyornis and that humans finished it off. A third theory is that drying up of the environment due to a change in climate may have killed off Aepyornis. Some eggshells of Aepyornis were found with the remains of human campfires at an archaeological site. Humans must have hunted it to some extent. There are tales about giant birds in the folklore of Madagascar.
Jiri Mlikovsky wrote an article titled Eggs of extinct aepyornithids (Aves: Aepyornithidae) of Madagascar: size and taxonomic identity. It was published in 2003. The text is on this link.
This publication is a reference:
A.F.A. Hawkins and S.M. Goodman. 2003. The Natural History of Madagascar. University of Chicago Press.