Name Meaning:  High/steep bird
Common Name:  Elephant Bird
Geologic Era:  Quaternary
Location Found:  Madagascar
Estimated Size:  Up to 3 meters tall and 400 kilograms (880 lbs)
Estimated Range:  Madagascar
Extinction Date:  c. 1000 A.D

Eggshell Fragment-Several millimeters thick, with some staining evident

Aepyornis’ contribution to the fossil museum is a bit of shell from an egg.  The shell is several millimeters thick, and looks more like porcelain than biological material.  A complete egg from one of these birds could have been 1 meter in circumference and hold the equivalent of over 150 chicken eggs.  Since Aepyornis and its relatives display neoteny, or juvenile features in an adult, early reports could have mistaken an adult Aepyornis for a chick of a much larger bird.


Aepyornis was a classic example of island gigantism.  Island gigantism is when animals grow to unusually large sizes when they are isolated on islands.  Modern examples of this phenomenon are Komodo dragons and Galapagos tortoises.  Typically, the species starts out smaller, and becomes progressively bigger the longer they are isolated.  Interestingly, the opposite can also happen (island drawfism).  This would result when a large species becomes isolated on an island.  As a giant species, Aepyornis would have few predators as an adult, with the only possibility being a large eagle.  Its eggs and chicks would have been vulnerable, however.  

Image Credits:

Skeleton:  By Monnier – http://digimorph.org/specimens/Aepyornis_maximus/Aepyornis.phtml digimorph.org, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=79655


Life Drawing:  By Acrocynus – Acrocynus, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3830345