Giant Flying Turkeys Lived in Australia 1-3 Million Years Ago
June 15, 2017
Progura gallinacea, a species of extinct giant brush turkey that lived in Australia during the Late Pliocene and Early Pleistocene (1-3 million years ago), is among five megapode birds described (or redescribed) by Flinders University paleontologists.
After carefully comparing megapode fossils from Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australia, the paleontologists have concluded that the remains belong to five different extinct species: Garrdimalga mcnamarai (new species), Progura gallinacea and P. campestris (new species), Latagallina naracoortensis and L. olsoni (new species).
The earliest-described extinct megapode, Progura gallinacea had an estimated mass of 7.7 kg.
Progura campestris, Latagallina naracoortensis, Garrdimalga mcnamarai and Latagallina olsoni had average masses of 6.2 kg, 5.2 kg, 5.2 kg and 2.9 kg, respectively.
Progura gallinacea had long, slender legs. Latagallina naracoortensis and L. olsoni had shorter legs and broad bodies.
These giant megapodes lived during the Pleistocene, between 5 million and 11,000 years ago, alongside Australia’s giant extinct marsupials such as diprotodons, marsupial lions and short-faced kangaroos.
It seems that none of these birds built mounds like their living Australian cousins because they lacked the large feet and specialized claws seen in mound-builders.
It’s more likely that they buried their eggs in warm sand or soil, like some living megapodes in Indonesia and the Pacific.
Unlike many large extinct birds, such as dodos, these megapodes were not flightless.
While big and bulky, their long, strong wing bones show they could all fly, and probably roosted in trees.
“These discoveries are quite remarkable because they tell us that more than half of Australia’s megapodes went extinct during the Pleistocene, and we didn’t even realize it until now,” said Elen Shute, a PhD candidate at Flinders University and lead author of a paper in the journal Royal Society Open Science.
“Given several of the largest birds to have lived in Australia in recent times have escaped detection in the fossil record until now, our research shows how little we know of Australia’s immediate pre-human avifauna,” said co-author Dr. Trevor Worthy, an associate professor at Flinders University.
“Probably many smaller extinct species also await discovery by paleontologists.”