The fossil bone found on Ellesmere Island is the first and only evidence of the massive ancient bird Gastornis.
Some fifty million years ago, a giant flightless bird used to roam the Arctic region and the bird was so massive that its head was the same the size of a modern-day horse.
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A team of researchers from China and University of Colorado Boulder have found the first and only evidence of an extraordinarily giant bird that lived on Ellesmere Island above the Arctic around 53 million years ago.
The fossil remains of the bird called Gastornis consists of a single toe bone and researchers estimate that the bird was around six feet tall and weighed several hundred pounds. The bird was a vegan who used its long neck to pluck nuts, seeds and hard fruits from the trees.
The fossil bone is similar to the toe bone found in Wyoming some time ago and it’s the only evidence that points to the presence of Gastornis in northern latitudes. The toe bone was recovered from Ellesmere Island way back in the 1970s but was not thoroughly examined until now.
Ellesmere Island, one of the largest islands in the world, has not yielded so much prehistoric fauna. The island is mostly covered with glaciers and ice and is one of the coolest and driest places on Earth where temperature can drop to minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter season.
Researchers suggest that during the early Eocene Epoch the atmosphere of the island might have been similar to forested freshwater swamps located in the southeast United States today and it may have harbored turtles, alligators, primates and hippo and rhino like mammals.
Researchers also found bones of another bird, called Presbyornis, on the island which closely resembles today’s ducks, goose and swans. But they are not sure whether the bird was native to the region or traveled to Ellesmere Island every year.
“Given the fossils we have, both hypotheses are possible. There are some sea ducks today that spent the winter in the cold, freezing Arctic and we see many more species of waterfowl that are only in the Arctic during the relatively warmer spring and summer months.” Professor Thomas Stidham of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing said in a statement.
The recent discoveries suggest that the region Ellesmere was not infertile during early Eocene epoch and was much more diverse and abundant in animals than present day.