The words "big bird" tend to give a lot of us the warm and fuzzies. And that's mainly thanks to this fella.
For almost 50 years, Sesame Street's Big Bird has been a part of people's lives. It's easy to see why. From his round body and cuddly yellow feathers to his childlike sense of wonder, Big Bird is just endlessly lovable. But now new research is threatening to make "big bird" a phrase not of comfort and joy, but of prehistoric terror.
Why, science? We thought you were the good guys!
Hold on tight, everyone. Meet Vorombe titan (say voh-ROHM-bey TIGH-tahn), the biggest bird to have ever lived!
More like HUGE bird
After years of researching their bones, scientists at the Zoological Society of London Institute of Zoology feel confident that Vorombe titan was the largest bird to have walked the Earth. And 'walk' is the operative word, here. These flightless birds were ancient cousins of ostriches, emus, and cassowaries. But where many of those animals can be still looked in the eye by a an adult human, the V. titan was a towering presence.
It stood 3 metres (nearly 10 feet) high and weighed around 860 kilograms (1,900 pounds). That isn't a big bird (even Big Bird is just 2.5 m or 8 feet 2 inches tall). That's a huge bird. Can you imagine that thing running towards you?
Would you be looking for a hug and to learn about the ABCs?
The elephant birds of Madagascar
Okay, to be real, we're being a bit unfair to the Vorombe titan (whose name literally means "big bird"). Yes, it was enormous. But it was no monster.
It was the largest of an animal family known as the elephant birds. They were the largest animals on the isolated African island of Madagascar. And though they're now extinct, they only died out around 1,000 years ago. That's not all that long ago, really. For example, the peak of the Roman Empire was less than 2,000 years ago.
In other words, human beings likely interacted with the V. titan. Closer to the point, this may have been the reason for its extinction. (A similar fate hit the similarly large flightless giant moa of New Zealand around 1500 years ago.)
Don't fear the bird
You know, maybe we've been thinking about this all wrong. Sure, the Vorombe titan was a giant animal. But it was no monster.
These birds were a vital part of the Madagascar ecosystem, eating plants and redistributing the seeds with their dung. As James Hansford, one of the researchers behind this study said in a recent report, "Madagascar is still suffering the effects of the extinction of these birds today." In the end, researchers are hopeful that studying these birds and finding out why they went extinct can help us avoid repeating these mistakes.
Which is good news. We love Big Bird. But also don't want the emus and ostriches of the world to go anywhere, thanks!