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Sci-Tech

Giant flying turkeys once called Australia home

Paleontologists determine turkeys roamed Australia about 2 million years ago, though they were considerably bulkier than their modern counterparts.

giant-turkey

This reconstruction compares (from left) a modern brush turkey, a modern grey kangaroo and the long-extinct Progura gallinacea.

Elen Shute/Flinders University

Turkeys rivaling the size of modern-day kangaroos gobbled their way across Australia about 2 million years ago, according to new research.

Compare the upper wing bone of the extinct species Latagallina naracoortensis (above) with the modern brush-turkey (below). The former is one of five extinct species that researchers have been re-examining

Flinders University

The conclusion followed a discovery of fossils in the Thylacoleo Caves on the Nullarbor Plain in Western Australia. The find prompted researchers at Flinders University in Adelaide to take a closer look at modern brush turkeys, their current cousins and their ancestors. 

"Taxonomic review of the late Cenozoic megapodes (Galliformes: Megapodiidae) of Australia" was published Wednesday by the Royal Society. In the paper, researchers note the giant brush-turkey was as tall as 3.2 feet (1 meter) and rather hefty. Regardless, its long wing bones imply that it could fly and most likely roosted in trees.  

The giant brush-turkey (Progura gallinacea) is one of five extinct species of "chunky" birds that paleontologists have been gathering information on as they re-examine fossils discovered in Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australia. 

All five extinct species are related to modern Malleefowl and brush turkeys, two species of megapodes known for building mounds on the ground to incubate eggs.

From the fossils, the scientists determined the extinct birds ranged from 6.6 pounds to 17 pounds (3 kilograms to 8 kilograms). That is four times the size of a Malleefowl, which about the size of a domestic chicken.

"These discoveries are quite remarkable because they tell us that more than half of Australia's megapodes went extinct during the Pleistocene Epoch, and we didn't realize this until now," Flinders University doctoral candidate Elen Shute said in a statement