Friday, 4 November 2011

Teratornithidae (Teratorns)

The word Teratorn comes from the Greek work Teratornis meaning monster bird and that was a pretty good suggestion from a reader for this week’s epic creature – The Teratorn was a species of huge birds, now extinct. Some of them may have looked like vultures but this species was birds of prey - big enough that some people believe this is the creature behind the myth of the Thunderbird.

Teratornithidae were the largest known flying birds with a wing span of up to 7m (23ft), standing up to 2m (6.6ft, that is much taller than me!), and could be as long as 3.5m(11.5ft) and weigh up to 78kg (172lb). That is a size that could rival the pterosaurs but they lived million of years apart. There are a few different species of the Teratornithidae that has been found, the largest being Argentavis but the best-known species found are Teratornis found in La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles. Over a hundred specimens of Teratornis have been found, the most common found stood about 75cm (29.5in), wing span of about 3.8m (12.5ft) and weight about 15kg (33lb) which is not much bigger than a condor but they are not small birds.

The larger Teratorns are believed to not be flying, but if there was a strong wind they could get some air and glide much like a modern albatross. In South America where they are believed to have lived in the late Miocene era (about 6 million years ago, very early man would of existed around this time as well) there would have been a lot of strong wind allowing the bird to be in the air a lot. The Teratorns are believed to be scavengers but their long and wide beaks suggest that they are birds of prey like the eagle. They might have been opportunistic scavengers as well as hunters and they most likely swallowed their food whole (swallowing animals as large as a hare). As they didn’t rely on scavenging, they most likely had completely feathered heads.

Teratorns are believed to still have been around at the same time as early man and it is believed to be the reason behind the myth of the thunderbird. The size of these birds would be reason enough for early man to fear it and/or worship it. I know I would find cover if this bird of prey was following me. The size alone is reason enough for this creature to be epic but that it caused legends to be passed down through the generations and survive to this day is what makes this week’s creature truly epic!

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