Press Release - Exceptionally preserved fossil gives voice to ancient terror bird

April 9, 2015

Exceptionally preserved fossil gives voice to ancient terror bird

 

BETHESDA, MD (April, 2015) — A new species of South American fossil terror bird called Llallawavis scagliai ("Scaglia's Magnificent Bird") is shedding light on the diversity of the group and how these giant extinct predators interacted with their environment. The new species, described in the latest issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, is the most complete terror bird ever discovered, with more than 90% of the skeleton exquisitely preserved. The new specimen also reveals details of anatomy that rarely preserve in the fossil record, including the auditory region of the skull, voice box, complete trachea, bones for focussing the eye, and the complete palate, allowing an unprecedented understanding of the sensory capabilities of these extinct predatory birds.

 

"The mean hearing estimated for this terror bird was below the average for living birds," said Dr. Federico "Dino" Degrange, lead author of the study from the Centro de Investigaciones en Ciencias de la Tierra (CICTERRA), CONICET and the Universidad Nacional de Córdoba, Argentina. "This seems to indicate that Llallawavis may have had a narrow, low vocalization frequency range, presumably used for intraspecific acoustic communication or prey detection." This is the first time that the structures which indicate hearing sensitivity have been reconstructed for any terror bird, and they may help explain the evolution, behavior, and ecology of this group of fossil birds.

 

Terror birds, or phorusracids as they are known scientifically, were carnivorous flightless birds up to 3 meters (10 ft) in height with tall hooked beaks. These birds were the predominant predators during the Cenozoic Age in South America and certainly one of the most striking groups that lived during that time. “The discovery of this new species provides new insights for studying the anatomy and phylogeny of phorusrhacids and a better understanding of this group’s diversification,” said Dr. Claudia Tambussi, also of CICTERRA and one of the co-authors of the study. The new species stood 4 feet tall and lived in Argentina approximately 3.5 million years ago in the Pliocene Epoch, towards the end of the reign of the group.

 

“The discovery of this species reveals that terror birds were more diverse in the Pliocene than previously thought. It will allow us to review the hypothesis about the decline and extinction of this fascinating group of birds” said Degrange.

 

 

ABOUT THE SOCIETY OF VERTEBRATE PALEONTOLOGY

Founded in 1940 by thirty-four paleontologists, the Society now has over 2,000 members representing professionals, students, artists, preparators, and others interested in VP. It is organized exclusively for educational and scientific purposes, with the object of advancing the science of vertebrate paleontology.

 

The Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology

The Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology (JVP) is the leading journal of professional vertebrate paleontology and the flagship publication of the Society. It was founded in 1980 by Dr. Jiri Zidek and publishes contributions on all aspects of vertebrate paleontology.

 

Citation: Federico J. Degrange, Claudia P. Tambussi, Matías L. Taglioretti, Alejandro Dondas & Fernando Scaglia (2015): A new Mesembriornithinae (Aves, Phorusrhacidae) provides new insights into the phylogeny and sensory capabilities of terror birds, Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, e912656. [Featured Article] DOI: 10.1080/02724634.2014.912656

 

AUTHOR CONTACT INFORMATION

Federico J. Degrange

Centro de Investigaciones en Ciencias de la Tierra (CICTERRA), CONICET and Universidad Nacional de Córdoba

Avenida Vélez Sársfield 1611, X5016GCA, Córdoba, Argentina

fjdino@gmail.com

 

Claudia P. Tambussi

Centro de Investigaciones en Ciencias de la Tierra (CICTERRA), CONICET and Universidad Nacional de Córdoba

Avenida Vélez Sársfield 1611, X5016GCA, Córdoba, Argentina

tambussi.claudia@conicet.gov.ar

 

Matías L. Taglioretti

Instituto de Geología de Costas y del Cuaternario, Facultad de Ciencias Exactas y Naturales, Universidad Nacional de Mar del Plata

CC 722, 7600, Mar del Plata, Argentina

paleomat@yahoo.com.ar

 

Alejandro Dondas

Museo Municipal de Ciencias Naturales Lorenzo Scaglia

Plaza España sin número, 7600, Mar del Plata, Argentina

adondas@gmail.com

 

Fernando Scaglia

Museo Municipal de Ciencias Naturales Lorenzo Scaglia

Plaza España sin número, 7600, Mar del Plata, Argentina

feroscaglia@gmail.com

 

OTHER EXPERTS NOT ASSOCIATED WITH THE STUDY

Dr. Luis Chiappe: lchiappe@nhm.org

Dr. Robert Chandler: bob.chandler@gcsu.edu

Dr. Lawrence Witmer: witmerl@ohio.edu; witmer@oucom.ohiou.edu

 

SEE FOLLOWING PAGES FOR IMAGES


 

Image 1: La Estafeta beach, southern coast of Buenos Aires Province, near Mar del Plata city, where the skeleton of Llallawavis scagliai was found. Photo courtesy of M. Taglioretti.

 

 


 

Image 2: Preserved skeleton of Llallawavis scagliai. Bones colored in gray are missing. Scale bar equals 0.10 m. Taken from Degrange et al. (2015).

 

 


 

Image 3: Skeleton of Llallawavis scagliai on display at the Museo Municipal de Ciencias Naturales Lorenzo Scaglia, Mar del Plata. Photo courtesy of M. Taglioretti and F. Scaglia.

 

 


 

Image 4: Skull of Llallawavis scagliai. Photo courtesy of F. Degrange.

 

 


 

Image 5: Cover Image of the April 2015 Issue

 

Artwork by H. Santiago Druetta