Fossils of giant bird discovered on ‘hobbit’ island of Flores

December 8th, 2010 - 5:58 pm ICT by ANI  

London, Dec 8 (ANI): Scientists have discovered the fossils of a 1.8-meter-tall marabou stork on an Indonesian island once home to human-like ‘hobbits’.

The remains of the big bird were discovered on the island of Flores, a place well known for the discovery of Homo floresiensis, a small hominin species closely related to modern humans, reports the BBC.
The stork may have been capable of hunting and eating juvenile members of the hominin species, said the scientists who made the discovery, though there is no direct evidence the birds did so.

The finding also helps explain how prehistoric wildlife adapted to living on islands.

Named Leptoptilos robustus, the bird stood 1.8m tall and weighed up to 16kg, making it considerably larger than the living stork species.

Palaeontologist Hanneke Meijer of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington made the discovery with colleague Rokus Due of the National Center for Archaeology in Jakarta, Indonesia.

The scientists, who came across fossilised fragments of four leg bones in the Liang Bua caves, have dated their findings at between 20,000 and 50,000 years old, with the bones coming from a single stork.

The giant bird is the latest extreme-sized species to be discovered once living on the island, which was home to dwarf elephants, giant rats and out-sized lizards as well as humans of small stature.

“I noticed the giant stork bones for the first time in Jakarta, as they stood out from the rest of the smaller bird bones. Finding large birds of prey is common on islands, but I wasn’t expecting to find a giant marabou stork,” Meijer said.

Many species on the islands evolved into either giants or dwarfs.

This phenomenon known as the ‘island factor’ is thought to have been triggered by few mammalian predators being on the island. That led to abundant prey species becoming smaller, and other predators becoming larger. “Larger mammals, such as elephants and primates, show a distinct decrease in size, whereas the smaller mammals such as rodents, and birds, have increased in size,” said Meijer.

“Flores has never been connected to mainland Asia and has always been isolated from surrounding islands. This isolation has played a key role in shaping the evolution of the fauna,” she added.

The remains of the giant stork were found in the same section of cave as the remains of H. floresiensis were discovered in 2004.

Discovered in 2004, H. floresiensis is thought to be a new human-like species standing just 1m tall, which survived until around 17,000 years ago.

It is thought that juvenile versions of the human creature may have been prey for the giant marabou.

However there is also evidence to suggest that the giant storks towered over the hobbits.”Whether or not this animal may have eaten hobbits is speculative. There is no evidence for that, but cannot be excluded either,” said Meijer.

Around 15,000 years ago, the climate of Flores went from dry to being wetter, and a combination of any of these factors may have been enough to drive species on the islands to extinction.

The finding is reported in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society. (ANI)

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