The fossil of a giant parrot, which stood at one metre tall has been discovered in New Zealand.
Named Heracles inexpactatus -—signifying its Herculean size and the surprise of the discovery — the parrot is the largest-ever discovered.
It is twice the size of the critically endangered flightless New Zealand kakapo, which was previously the largest known parrot.
Heracles is believed to have had a massive beak that could crack open even the toughest sources of food, and scientists posit it may have been a cannibal, at times feasting on other parrots.
“New Zealand is well known for its giant birds,” says Flinders University Associate Professor Trevor Worthy. “Not only moa dominated avifaunas, but giant geese and adzebills shared the forest floor, while a giant eagle ruled the skies.
“But until now, no-one has ever found an extinct giant parrot – anywhere.”
Experts from Flinders University, UNSW Sydney and Canterbury Museum in New Zealand estimate Heracles to be 1 metre tall, weighing about 7kg.
The giant parrot was found in fossils which were up to 19 million years old, near St Bathans in Central Otago, New Zealand.
The area is well known for bird fossils from the Miocene period, which lasted from around 23 million to five million years ago.
“It was likely a flightless forager who ate abundantly on fruit and seeds but may have preyed on small animals that it could dig out of logs, or even snack on dead or dying moa – like kea still do with sheep,” said Associate Professor Worthy, from the Flinders University Palaeontology Lab.
“We have been excavating these fossil deposits for 20 years, and each year reveals new birds and other animals.
“While Heracles is one of the most spectacular birds we have found, no doubt there are many more unexpected species yet to be discovered in this most interesting deposit.”