Historic Fossil Fragment Revealed as The Solely Vulture Ever Found in Australia

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For greater than 100 years, paleontologists have thought {that a} fossil found in South Australia was a robust grave eagle (Taphaetus lacertosus). Now, new analysis has revealed its true taxonomy: it is a vulture, and it is the primary one found within the nation.


The fossil is that of a Cryptogyps lacertosus (that means highly effective hidden vulture) and this scavenging raptor would have lived between 500 and 50,000 years in the past. It is what’s generally known as an ‘Previous World’ vulture, and comparable species are nonetheless round in the present day – although not in Australia.

The reclassification highlights simply how various the megafauna and different wildlife had been on this a part of the world again within the Pleistocene interval, which started about 2.5 million years in the past and ended round 11,700 years in the past.

Eagle and vulture comparisons. (Ellen Mather, Flinders University Paleontology Lab)

“We in contrast the fossil materials to birds of prey from around the globe, and it grew to become clear instantly that this hen was not tailored to being a hunter, and so was not a hawk or an eagle,” says paleontologist Ellen Mather from Flinders College in Australia.

“The options of the decrease leg bone are too underdeveloped to help the musculature wanted for killing prey. After we positioned Cryptogyps in an evolutionary tree, this confirmed our suspicions that the hen was a vulture, and we’re very excited to lastly publish on this species.”


This story begins in 1901 with the invention of the primary a part of the fossil: a fraction of a wing bone discovered close to the Kalamurina Homestead on the Warburton River in South Australia. Inside just a few years, it was described as being from an extinct relative of the wedge-tailed eagle.

In recent times, researchers (together with these behind this newest research) began to query the classification of the fossil now generally known as C. lacertosus. It was suggested that Previous World vultures could have existed in the course of the Pleistocene in Australia and that this fossil could be certainly one of them.

The invention of recent fossils from the Wellington Caves in New South Wales and Leaena’s Breath Cave within the Nullabor Plains of Western Australia helped the researchers to show it.

These vultures would have shared the skies with wedge-tailed eagles and regarded down on some pretty giant beasts – together with the marsupial herbivore Diprotodon and the marsupial lion Thylacoleo, each now extinct.

“The invention solves a thriller of what occurred to so many megafaunal carcasses when the continent did not have vultures,” says paleontologist Trevor Worthy from Flinders College.


“Now we all know they had been right here. They have been hidden in plain sight.”

One other takeaway from the research describing C. lacertosus is that the range of predatory birds in Australia was a lot better then than it’s now.

Vultures play an important function in dashing up carcass decay and lowering illness unfold – and now there are none left in Australia.

The researchers recommend that the demise of the vultures would have shaken up the ecological established order, as different scavengers started to fill the identical function – albeit in not fairly the identical approach.

If C. lacertosus acted in the same method to its modern-day kinfolk, then it could have been frequent for most of the birds to feed collectively on one carcass. This might have helped to present it a aggressive edge over different animals.

“In the present day we’re conversant in a wedge-tailed eagle choosing at a kangaroo carcass on the roadside,” says Mather. “Hundreds of years in the past, a really completely different hen would have stuffed the function of carrion client – one most individuals would now affiliate with the plains of Africa.”

The analysis has been printed in Zootaxa.


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