There Were Kangaroo-Sized Turkeys in Prehistoric Australia
New fossil research suggests Australia was once home to turkeys as big as modern-day kangaroos.
Picture it. I'll wait.
According to a team of researchers from Flinders University, the fossils revealed chunky new relatives of today's malleefowl and brush-turkeys.
Researchers also found that Australia was home to five species of giant chicken-esque birds known as megapodes, with the largest weighing around eight kilograms (around 17 pounds).
"It's been quite surprising because whereas before, we suspected there may have been one or two extinct species whose identity was uncertain, we've actually discovered that there were five different species running around Australia prior to humans arriving on the continent," lead researcher Elen Shute said.
Despite their size, paleontologists say these megapodes were not flightless. Again, you really must picture it.
"All of the five species show that they had strong upper bodies... We believe that they would have been well-capable of flying, say, up into a tree to roost or to escape from a predator," Shute said.
According to Shute's team, the megapode birds lived during the Pleistocene era, between 1.6 million and 10,000 years ago, living with other animals such as marsupial lions, diprotodons, and short-faced kangaroos.
"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," Shute continued. "We compared the fossils described in the 1880s and the 1970s with specimens discovered more recently, and with the benefit of new fossils, differences between species became really clear."
Researchers categorized the newly found birds into two groups --"tall turkeys" characterized by long, slim legs, and "nuggetty chickens" that had short legs and broad bodies.
"So far the Thylacoleo Caves have yielded seven new species of kangaroo, a frog, two giant ground-cuckoos, and now two new megapodes," Flinders' Professor Gavin Prideaux said. "The closer we look, the more we keep finding."