The researchers say they have determined that the eagle — which lived in the mountains of New Zealand and weighed about 40 pounds (18 kilograms) — was a predator and not a mere scavenger as many thought. Even though moa were fifteen times the size of a Haast’s eagle, they were theÂ eagle’s primary food source and allowed the eagles to grow to their incredible size. The researchers also determined the eagle quickly evolved from a much smaller ancestor, with the body growing much more quickly than the brain. The Haast’s eagle thrived for centuries in the wild as an apex predator within its ecosystem on South Island. As a result, approximately 100 years after humans arrived in New Zealand, both the moa and the Haast’s eagle disappeared forever. Using computed axial tomography, or CAT, the researchers scanned several skulls, a pelvis and a beak in an effort to reconstruct the size of the bird's brain, eyes, ears and spinal cord. With weapons and tools, the Maori hunted all of the moa species to extinction, leaving the Haast’s eagles without theirÂ primary food sources. Known to scientists as Haast’s eagle (Harpagornis moorei), the terrifying â and very real â bird went extinct in the 1400s. Unfortunately, despite instilling fear in the Maori settlers, the Haast’s eagle would eventually give way to New Zealand’s new apex predators: humans. While Haast’s eagles may seem overqualified for a predator on an island with no native terrestrial mammals other than tiny bats, they actually shared habitat with equally enormous (but non-predatory) birds called moa. These giant raptorsÂ had a wingspan of 9.8 ft, which was quite small for their overall size, but their muscular bodies and legs more than made up for it. Unfortunately, despite instilling fear in the Maori settlers, the Haast’s eagle would eventually give way to New Zealand’s new apex predators: humans. "Convincing data shows beyond doubt that this bird was an active predator, no mere scavenger. Because fossils are so fragile and most of the species were never seen by humans, CAT scans allow researchers to closely examine body parts of the long-extinct animals to learn about their behavior, Scofield said. Ducks Grow Longer Penises to Compete With Other Males, the Maori hunted all of the moa species to extinction, When Species Collide: Grizzly-Polar Bear Hybrids, This Tiny, Adorable Killing Machine Is The World’s Deadliest Cat. The myth may refer to the real Haast's eagle: a bird of massive size and strength which had the capability to possibly kill humans. In fact, they were 40 percent larger than the largest living eagles, and their beaks and talons were nearly twice the size of any modern eagle. Ken Ashwell of the University of New South Wales in Australia and Paul Scofield of the Canterbury Museum in New Zealand wrote their conclusions in the peer-reviewed Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. In Māori mythology, the Pouakai or Poukai is a monstrous bird.In some of these legends pouakai kill and eat humans. It is a nice use of modern technology and the same old bones as yesteryear to advance knowledge. The average adult human is less than half the size of an adult moa, and a human child would probably have been aÂ mere snack. Much larger than modern eagles, Haast's eagle would have swooped to prey on flightless birds — and possibly even the rare unlucky human. The species was the largest eagle known to have existed, with an estimated weight of 15 kilograms (33 lb) nearly double that of the Harpy eagle at 9 kilograms (20 lb). "They provide a convincing case that the body of this eagle has rapidly enlarged, presumably adapting to the very much larger prey it had access to in New Zealand, but that the brain size had lagged behind this increase," he said in an e-mail interview. Much larger than modern eagles, Haast's eagle would have swooped to prey on flightless birds — and possibly even the rare unlucky human. Haast's eagle became extinctar… FemalesÂ were the biggest and weighed over 31 pounds, grew to almost 5 feet in length, and stood nearly 3 feet tall. "The fossils are very valuable and you can't just cut into the skull to look at the brain," he said. ", 24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events. They compared their data on the Haast's eagle to characteristics of modern predator birds and scavenger birds to determine that the bird was a fearsome predator that ate the flightless moa birds and even humans. Its massive size is explained as an evolutionary response to the size of its prey, the flightless moa, the largest of which could weigh 230 kg (510 lb). Hundreds of years ago, a massive predatory bird soared through the skies and struck terror into the hearts of the first humans to arrive in New Zealand, the Maori.
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