Register for an account

X

Enter your name and email address below.

Your email address is used to log in and will not be shared or sold. Read our privacy policy.

X

Website access code

Enter your access code into the form field below.

If you are a Zinio, Nook, Kindle, Apple, or Google Play subscriber, you can enter your website access code to gain subscriber access. Your website access code is located in the upper right corner of the Table of Contents page of your digital edition.

Planet Earth

The Extinct Flightless Bird Whose Wings Were Like Shillelaghs

80beatsBy Andrew MosemanJanuary 5, 2011 8:49 PM

Newsletter

Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

NinjaBird.jpg

No, the large ibis that lived in Jamaica millions of years ago couldn't fly. But it could probably bash you to death. Researchers studying Xenicibis xympithecus now believe the bird's peculiar wing structure, which confused them for decades, was ideally formed to be used as a club. From Ed Yong:

Xenicibis is a large, extinct, flightless ibis. It was discovered by Storrs Olson from the Smithsonian Institution, who found some partial remains in a Jamaican cave in 1977. When Olson eventually saw the bird’s wing bones, he was baffled. They were so “utterly strange” that he thought the animal must have been suffering from some inexplicable disease.

Since then, Olson has found more remains including an almost complete skeleton. Now, he and his partner Nicholas Longrich from Yale University, have a very different view of the wing. They think it was a club. Weapons like clubs and bats have large weighted ends to deliver heavy impacts, and long handles to increase the speed of the swing. That’s exactly what you see in Xenicibis’s wing.

For more about the these birds and their weapons of mass pummeling (and why they may have evolved this way), check out the rest of the post at Not Exactly Rocket Science

. Related Content: Discoblog: I Can’t Fly! Birds Lost Their Aerial Abilities Multiple Times

Not Exactly Rocket Science: First birds were poor fliers – flaps would have buckled Archaeopteryx feathers

DISCOVER: Tuxedo Junction

—speaking of weird flightless birds, read Mary Roach's feature on the migration of Patagonian penguins Image: Proceedings of the Royal Society B

2 Free Articles Left

Want it all? Get unlimited access when you subscribe.

Subscribe

Already a subscriber? Register or Log In

Want unlimited access?

Subscribe today and save 70%

Subscribe

Already a subscriber? Register or Log In