This is an artist’s reconstruction of Heracles inexpectatus – aka Hercules – the 19-million-year old remains of which were found near St Bathans in Central Otago, New Zealand (NZ).
Palaeontologists say that in its day it would have stood a metre tall and weighed about seven kilograms, making it twice the size of the critically endangered flightless NZ kakapo, previously the largest known parrot.
NZ is well known for its giant birds, says Trevor Worthy from Australia’s Flinders University, but “until now, no-one has ever found an extinct giant parrot – anywhere”.
The area around St Bathans is well known for a rich assemblage of fossil birds from the Miocene period.
Like the kakapo, Hercules was a member of an ancient NZ group of parrots that appear to be more primitive than those that thrive today in Australia and elsewhere.
It lived in a diverse subtropical forest and had a massive beak “that could crack wide open anything it fancied”, says co-author Mike Archer from Australia’s UNSW Sydney.
Experts from NZ’s Canterbury Museum also were part of the discovery, which is described in a paper in the journal Biology Letters.