BANGKOK -- Sophisticated computer scans of fossils have helped solve a mystery over the nature of a giant, ancient raptor known as the Haast's eagle which became extinct about 500 years ago, researchers said Friday. Unfortunately, despite instilling fear in the Maori settlers, the Haast’s eagle would eventually give way to New Zealand’s new apex predators: humans. ", Jamie R. Wood, a researcher from New Zealand who has done extensive research on the moa, said the analysis strengthens the case that the eagle evolved quickly from a much smaller ancestor, "in what must be one of the most dramatic examples anywhere of how rapidly evolution can occur on islands. "The fossils are very valuable and you can't just cut into the skull to look at the brain," he said. Watch: From the wildest corners of the planet, to extraordinary encounters in our own backyard, we provide a platform and community to celebrate the wildlife enthusiast in us all. Much larger than modern eagles, Haast's eagle would have swooped to prey on flightless birds — and possibly even the rare unlucky human. Scofield said the findings are similar to what he found in Maori folk tales. 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. Due to its faraway location, New Zealand was an isolated haven of unique flora and fauna that flourished free from human contact. The Haast's eagle (Hieraaetus moorei) is an extinct species of eagle that once lived in the South Island of New Zealand, commonly accepted to be the pouakai of Maori legend. Moa were flightless birds, not unlike ostriches and emus, that which weighed over 440 pounds. As a result, approximately 100 years after humans arrived in New Zealand, both the moa and the Haast’s eagle disappeared forever. 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. Legends of the Maori people of New Zealand describe a man-eating monster bird called Te Hokioi. Because of the Haast’s eagle’s size and strength, it may have attacked humans, inspiring the Maori legends. 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. Scientists believe the Haast's eagle became extinct about 500 years ago, most likely due to habitat destruction and the extinction of its prey species at the hands of early Polynesian settlers. 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. FemalesÂ were the biggest and weighed over 31 pounds, grew to almost 5 feet in length, and stood nearly 3 feet tall. However, without any confirmed records of Haast’s eagle attacks prior to its extinction, we’ll never know for sure. "Convincing data shows beyond doubt that this bird was an active predator, no mere scavenger. Unfortunately, despite instilling fear in the Maori settlers, the Haast’s eagle would eventually give way to New Zealand’s new apex predators: humans. 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. It would have to be an endlessly defenseless one for an eagle to even get close. 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. Haast’s eagles were huge, weighing 40 lbs with a … Haast's eagle became extinctar… It is a nice use of modern technology and the same old bones as yesteryear to advance knowledge. No eagles eat humans. 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. "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. "So by using nondestructive techniques, you can get a much better idea of the neurobiology of these animals.". 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. "The science supports Maori mythology of the legendary pouakai or hokioi, a huge bird that could swoop down on people in the mountains and was capable of killing a small child," he said. 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). 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. It certainly was capable of taking a person down. Much larger than modern eagles, Haast's eagle would have swooped to prey on flightless birds — and possibly even the rare unlucky human. When Haast’s eagles ruled New Zealand, they were the country’s apex terrestrial predator and the largest raptorial birds in the world. Appeals court rejects Trump challenge of Pennsylvania race, Biden's win hides a dire warning for Democrats in rural US, Venezuela judge convicts 6 American oil execs, orders prison, Trump administration moves ahead on gutting bird protections. That legend is thought to have been inspired by Haast’s eagle, a giant raptor that survived until only about 500 years ago. 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. In Māori mythology, the Pouakai or Poukai is a monstrous bird.In some of these legends pouakai kill and eat humans. No evidence has been found that Haast’s Eagle preyed on humans, but researchers believe it was big and strong enough to do so. This fear is reflected in the Maori legend of Poukai, an enormous man-eating bird. 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. "This work is a great example of how rapidly evolving medical techniques and equipment can be used to solve ancient medical mysteries," Ashwell said. They believe its body grew 10 times bigger during the early to middle Pleistocene period, 700,000 to 1.8 million years ago. Skull of a Haast’s Eagle specimen. 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. With weapons and tools, the Maori hunted all of the moa species to extinction, leaving the Haast’s eagles without theirÂ primary food sources.
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