Powerful ancient eagle added to known Australian fossil birds

Researchers have published new scientific information about Australia’s ancient birds of prey, naming a fourth eagle that lived in Australia during the Pleistocene era, over 100,000 years ago.

To accompany the paper, published in Alcheringa: An Australasian Journal of Palaeontology, a paleoart reconstruction of two of the fossil birds has been put on display at the Naracoorte Caves in South Australia’s Limestone Coast.

“These fossils I’ve been working on come from South Australia – specifically in the Limestone Coast region,” said Dr Ellen Mather, first author of the new paper.

“We have fossils from Naracoorte Caves and a couple of fossils from a nearby site near Mount Gambier, called the Green Waterhole.”

These creatures would have lived during the Pleistocene period more than 100,000 years ago.

The new paper names one of the eagles Dynatoaetus pachyosteus, referencing the ‘robustness’ of the bones.

“This species is currently only known from Naracoorte, though, it almost certainly would have been found elsewhere as well,” said Mather.  

“It would have been a fairly large eagle – a wingspan pretty similar to that on a wedgetail, but with bones that are considerably more robust. It would have been quite powerful.”

Accipitrd vfc humerus compared to wedge tail
The humerus of the newly described Dynatoaetus pachyosteus (left) compared to that of the living Wedge-tailed Eagle. Credit: Ellen Mather.

The paper also provides more information about an ancient vulture called Cryptogyps lacertosus and the largest eagle, Dynatoaetus gaffae.

The painting, which was unveiled yesterday at the Naracoorte Fossil Centre, has both the vulture and the newly names species of eagle as they might have looked 60,000 years ago.  The artwork was done by South Australian artist John Barrie.

“One of the things about being a palaeontologist is you get to know your animals through their bones but you can never really know how exactly how they might have looked in life,” said Mather.

“Having artists help to bring them to life in that way is really, really useful.”

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