A Big Bird's Egg

Wednesday 13 May 2020

The Museum's Inventory Team recently inventoried this subfossil elephant bird egg in our Vertebrate Store. Elephant birds were a part of a family of giant flightless birds from Madagascar. They became extinct around 1,000 years ago.

Elephant Bird egg

Canterbury Museum AV14646

Elephant birds belong to the ratite group, which consists of ostrich, emu, kiwi and extinct moa. Fossil studies have indicated the Giant Elephant Bird (Aepyornis maximus) could reach a maximum height of 3 metres and weighed up to 540 kg. Another, recently described, species Vorombe titan may have weighed as much as 860 kg.

While elephant birds most closely resembled moa, ostrich and Emu, genetics research has determined that kiwi are actually their closest living relatives. A 2018 sensory study concluded that elephant birds were not daytime foraging species like moa, but nocturnal like kiwi.

This Giant Elephant Bird (Aepyornis maximus) egg was bequeathed to Canterbury Museum by Edgar F Stead (1881–1949).

A. maximus eggs could reach a maximum length and width of 34 x 24.5 cm. Although fossilised eggshell fragments are relatively common, entire intact eggs are less common. Our specimen is actually a composite. Half the egg appears to be from a single individual, but the other half is composed of egg shell fragments that litter ancient nesting sites around the coast of Madagascar.

Aepyornis maximus 01 L.D.

Artist's reconstruction of Aepyornis maximus. By Acrocynus, CC BY-SA 3.0

Edgar F Stead donated his egg collection, which at the time was New Zealand's largest in private hands, to Canterbury Museum in his will. Stead built the Ilam Homestead, now a part of the grounds of the University of Canterbury, and was a prolific Museum donor.

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