Unexpected Hercules

Unexpected Hercules

Here is an artistic reconstruction of the giant parrot Heracles inexpectatus who lived in New Zealand 16–19 million years ago. The generic name of this species refers to the hero of ancient Greek myths Hercules and indicates the outstanding size of the bird, and the species is translated from Latin as “unexpected” and reflects the surprise of paleontologists who discovered such an unusual species. At the feet of the parrot, three prehistoric New Zealand wrens are depicted for scale. Kuiornis indicator (see picture of the day Endangered New Zealand wrens ).

The remains of H. inexpectatus were found in the region 3-3-3341. Otago in the southeast South Island New Zealand. Specialists came across them in 2008 while working on 3-3-345. Early Miocene 3-3-33416. Bannockburn Formations (see Manuherikia Group ). New Zealand and Australian scientists have been conducting intensive research here since the beginning of the 21st century, and a number of interesting discoveries have already been made.

Numerous fossil birds, reptiles and other animals described during the study of the formation were collectively called the “Saint Batan fauna” ( St Bathans fauna ) - in honor of the nearby mining town of Saint Batans ( Saint Bathans ), now turned into a tourist attraction. All of them inhabited the vicinity of the prehistoric shallow Lake Manucherikia (3-3-3355. Lake Manuherikia 3-3-33416.), Whose area was 5600 km 3-3-3357. 2 . The lake floodplain was covered with grassy vegetation and a subtropical forest of 3–3–359. casuarin , eucalyptus , palm trees and Cycas 3-3-33416. . This environment not only supported a high variety of animals, but also provided conditions for the preservation of their remains in sand and silt.

Unexpected Hercules

Left - Early Miocene Lake Manucherikia and the lush subtropical forests surrounding it, according to the artist. Figure © Chris Gaskin from teara.govt.nz . Right - the modern Manuherikia River ( Manuherikia River ), flowing through mountainous terrain, where it is hot and dry in summer and snow falls in winter. Photo from the site en.wikipedia.org

The most amazing representatives of the fossil “zoo” Bannockburn is the oldest known kiwi Proapteryx micromeros which is possibly still was able to fly, as well as a primitive terrestrial mammal the size of a mouse, until it has received a scientific description and 3-3-3107. known under the designation "Saint-Batan's mammal." In addition, in the sediments of Lake Manucherikia 3–3–3109. found the remains of moa , bats and missing in modern New Zealand crocodiles and turtles.

Unexpected Hercules

Some representatives of the St. Batan fauna are neighbors of a giant parrot. Top left - the ancestor of modern kiwi Proapteryx micromeros with a frog in its beak. Top right - reptile from order beak-headed (Rhynchocephalia), a relative of hatteria 3-3-33416. ( Sphenodon punctatus ). Right bottom - gecko and two bats from the endemic family of beetles (3–3–3147. Mystacinidae 3–3–3416.), whose representatives adapted to terrestrial life. Figure © Peter Schouten from the site sciblogs.co.nz , enlarged - from the site australiangeographic.com.au

When a pair of incomplete 3-3-3161 fell into the hands of paleontologists. tibiotarsus, or ankle-tarsus from Bannockburn, who later became the basis for describing the parrot H. inexpectatus , [/i] they were previously attributed to a large bird of prey. However, a more thorough analysis, ten years later, 3–3–3167. showed that the bones belonged to a huge parrot. The left tibia-tarsus was prescribed 3-3-3171. holotype (this is the name of the instance chosen by the author as typical when establishing the species), and the right one is paratype (these are the remaining copies on which the original description is based), although, most likely, they belonged to one individual.

Unexpected Hercules

Above - silhouette of H. inexpectatus in comparison with the human. Below - ankle-tarsus of parrots: a , b and f - holotype (left tibia-tarsus) H. inexpectatus , g - paratype (right) H. inexpectatus ; d and e - left ankle-tarsus cocoa . Image from an article T. H. Worthy et al., 2019.3-3r3415. Evidence for a giant parrot from the Early Miocene of New Zealand

Based on data on the structure of the limbs, the discoverers attributed 3-3-33419. H. inexpectatus to the superfamily Strigopoidea . This group of parrots, endemic 3-3-33416. for New Zealand and several neighboring islands, it separated from its relatives about 80 million years ago, shortly after the future archipelago broke away from 3-3-33229. Gondwana . Only three representatives of this evolutionary line - the famous night flying flightless parrot - have survived to this day. cocoa ( Strigops habroptilus ), And also known for its intelligence kea (3-3-33419. Nestor notabilis 3-3-33420.) And 3-3-33239. Nestor-Kaka (3-3-33419. N. meridionalis 3-3-33420.). Two more species from the genus Nestor that inhabited the small oceanic islands southeast and north of New Zealand, died out due to human fault several centuries ago. Chatham kaka (3-3-33419. 3-3-33246. N. chathamensis 3-3-33416.3-3-33420.) Disappeared after the colonization of the islands 3-3-33249. Chatham Polynesians no later than 1700 but for 3-3-33251. thin-billed nestor (3-3-33419. N. productus 3-3-33420.) The development by Europeans of its native islands 3-3-33255 became fatal. Norfolk and Phillip in the 19th century. In addition, from the same sediments of Bannockburn as H. inexpectatus , 3-3-33416 are known. four more ancient species of Strigopoidea, belonging to the genus Nelepsittacus . Three of them were relatively small birds, and the fourth, not yet formally described, reached the size of a modern kea.

Unexpected Hercules

Representatives of the genus Nestor . Left - kea, an endemic of the mountains of the South Island of New Zealand, famous for its high intelligence and tendency to eat meat. Photo © Arnaud Badiane from flickr.com . In the center is - long-billed Nestor from the islands of Norfolk and Phillip, located between New Zealand and New Caledonia . In nature, it disappeared in the first half of the 19th century, and the last individual died in captivity in 1851. Drawing by British ornithologist and animal painter John Gould  ( John Gould ) From en.wikipedia.org . Right - Kaka, an inhabitant of the forests of both main islands of New Zealand. Both non-extinct species are severely affected by introducers and belong to 3-3-3303. endangered (3-3-3305. Endangered 3-3-33416., EN). Photo © digitaltrails from flickr.com

By the standards of parrots, H. inexpectatus was a real giant. According to calculations, the length of his body reached one meter, and the mass - 7 kg. If this bird stood next to a man, she would reach him to the waist. Modern parrots do not grow to such an impressive size. The longest of these is South American 3-3-33317. hyacinth macaw ( Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus ) - grows to 80–98 cm, but almost half falls on the tail. The heaviest, cocoa , weighs up to 4 kg with a length of 58–64 cm. All known fossil parrots are even smaller, which makes H. inexpectatus the largest ever representative of detachment parrot-shaped (Psittaciformes). Most likely, the unusual size of this species is explained by the fact that its entire evolution proceeded in isolation. This is a fairly common phenomenon in nature, known as island gigantism .

Paleontologists suggest flying H. inexpectatus I didn’t know how, therefore, during the reconstruction of his appearance and way of life they are guided by kakapo, the only surviving flightless parrot. Apparently, it should be considered as the closest living relative of the ancient giant. However, the exact pedigree of the latter remains to be seen. For example, it is not known whether occurs. H. inexpectatus and cocoa [/i] from a single ancestor who lost the ability to fly many millions of years ago, or they switched to a terrestrial way of life independently of each other.

If the comparison with kakapo is correct, then the giant parrot ate the fruits of trees and other plant foods, and also knew how to climb trees, using its beak as a "third paw." Moreover, it cannot be ruled out that sometimes this bird diversified the diet with animal food, like kea.

It is widely known that many gigantic New Zealand birds, including nine species of moa and 3-3-33341 prey on them. Haast eagle ( Hieraaetus (Harpagornis) moorei ), Became extinct shortly after appearing on the islands Polynesians 3-3-33416. , ancestors Maori . However, H. inexpectatus most likely disappeared long before people reached New Zealand. At least in Pleistocene 3-3-33416. and Holocene 3-3-33416. no traces of the existence of this species or other parrots larger than cocoa were found.

It is difficult to say why this evolutionary experiment ended in failure. The easiest way to relate the disappearance of H. inexpectatus with climate change. When the comfortable conditions of the early Miocene gave way to colder and drier, New Zealand could no longer support the existence of a thermophilic Saint-Batan fauna. Some local animals, including the ancestors of moa and kiwi, managed to adapt to the new habitat, but turtles, crocodiles and mysterious terrestrial mammals became extinct. Perhaps the same fate befell the giant parrots. Another likely reason for the disappearance of H. inexpectatus - Competition with small moa or anseriform birds, for example flightless geese of the genus 3-3-33419. Cnemiornis that drove parrots out of their ecological niche .

Unexpected Hercules

Kakapo is the heaviest modern parrot, as well as a relative and, possibly, the closest environmental counterpart to H. inexpectatus . In the photo - a male named Cirocco ( Sirocco ), The most famous representative of his species and a peculiar ambassador of wildlife of New Zealand. Photo © Dylan van Winkel from nzbirdsonline.org.nz

H. inexpectatus died out not due to human fault, but this almost happened with a kakapo who survived to the present, who turned out to be defenseless against rodents, 3-3-33399. fox body weight ( Trichosurus vulpecula ) And carnivorous mammals that came to New Zealand with Polynesian and European colonists. Today, cacapo is considered one of the rarest birds in the world, and its range, which once covered both of the main islands of the archipelago, has been reduced to three predator-free islands 3-3-3403. Codfish , Little Barrier and Anchor . At the cost of incredible effort, New Zealand environmental organizations manage to not only support these tiny populations, but also ensure their growth. If a year ago there were 147 kakapos in the world, today there are already 211 thanks to a very successful breeding season in 2019. The view is still in critical position but there is hope that with human help he will be able to survive difficult times.

Photo © Brian Choo from theguardian.com .

Sergey Kolenov

11 май 2020 /
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