An ancient flightless bird has been confirmed to have inhabited the Arctic, in a recent study featured in the journal Scientific Reports.
The prehistoric bird species which once roamed Earth’s northernmost regions was Gastornis, whose presence had been previously confirmed throughout Asia, Europe, and the United States.
The fact that this bird was also found at such high latitudes in the northern hemisphere was proven thanks to just one fossil, discovered back in the 1970’s in Ellesmere Island.
At the time, researchers unearthed a single toe bone which appeared to have belonged to an unusually large bird species.
Now, following research led by experts at the University of Colorado Boulder and the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing it has finally been determined that the fossil is nearly identical to others belonging to Gastornis birds unearthed in Wyoming, approximately 2,500 miles southward.
Just like those ancient remains, this toe bone was dated back to around 53 million years ago, when it is believed that the Arctic wasn’t as frigid and inhospitable as it is noways.
As explained by Jaelyn Eberle, associate professor of geological sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder, at present the northern Canadian region known as Ellesmere Island experiences temperatures of around minus forty degrees Fahrenheit.
In contrast, during the early beginnings of the Eocene Epoch, weather conditions were much more pleasant, being similar to the ones encountered in the Great Cypress Swamp which stretches across southeastern Maryland and south Delaware, in the Delmarva peninsula.
The area located in immediate proximity to Greenland actually had a wide variety of fauna, which included alligators, tapirs, turtles, primates, and heavyweight mammals from which rhinos and hippos eventually descended.
As revealed by professor Thomas Stidham, affiliated with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Gastornis is believed to have been an ancient flightless bird, with a head as large as horse’s. The giant avian creature had a height of around 6 feet, and a weight of several hundred pounds.
Even though it looked extremely forbidding and threatening, the humongous bird wasn’t actually a carnivore, but a full-blown vegan, whose diet was based entirely on nuts, fruit, leaves and seeds.
In the same paper describing the ancient flightless bird called Gastornis, Eberle and Stidham also presented another bird species which used to be common million of years ago on Ellesmere Island, as evidenced by the presence of an ancient humerus bone found in the area.
Known as Presbyornis, the avian creature resembled modern-day swans or ducks, but had much more elongated legs, more reminiscent of a flamingo’s.
Based on these recently published findings, it becomes obvious that the Arctic region was much richer in fauna during the Eocene than it is nowadays, although even back then winters must’ve been harsh, with polar nights stretching across months.
It may be that Presbyornis actually migrated farther south during colder months, only to return during warmer seasons, but just as easily it could be that it remained on Ellesmere Island through the entire year.
In contrast, Gastornis was almost certainly a permanent inhabitant of the island, since it would’ve been too taxing for such a large flightless bird to travel extensively whenever the weather got overly frigid.
As researchers explain, gaining more insight into the types of animals that inhabited the Arctic during the early Eocene, when temperatures were higher, might allow us to predict what fauna could thrive in the area if global warming becomes even potent, causing northernmost ice caps to be severely depleted.
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