The Extinct Flightless Bird Whose Wings Were Like Shillelaghs

By Andrew Moseman | January 5, 2011 9:49 am

No, the large ibis that lived in Jamaica millions of years ago couldn’t fly. But it could probably bash you to death.

Researchers studying Xenicibis xympithecus now believe the bird’s peculiar wing structure, which confused them for decades, was ideally formed to be used as a club.

From Ed Yong:

Xenicibis is a large, extinct, flightless ibis. It was discovered by Storrs Olson from the Smithsonian Institution, who found some partial remains in a Jamaican cave in 1977. When Olson eventually saw the bird’s wing bones, he was baffled. They were so “utterly strange” that he thought the animal must have been suffering from some inexplicable disease.

Since then, Olson has found more remains including an almost complete skeleton. Now, he and his partner Nicholas Longrich from Yale University, have a very different view of the wing. They think it was a club. Weapons like clubs and bats have large weighted ends to deliver heavy impacts, and long handles to increase the speed of the swing. That’s exactly what you see in Xenicibis’s wing.

For more about the these birds and their weapons of mass pummeling (and why they may have evolved this way), check out the rest of the post at Not Exactly Rocket Science.

Related Content:
Discoblog: I Can’t Fly! Birds Lost Their Aerial Abilities Multiple Times
Not Exactly Rocket Science: First birds were poor fliers – flaps would have buckled Archaeopteryx feathers
DISCOVER: Tuxedo Junction—speaking of weird flightless birds, read Mary Roach’s feature on the migration of Patagonian penguins

Image: Proceedings of the Royal Society B


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


80beats is DISCOVER's news aggregator, weaving together the choicest tidbits from the best articles covering the day's most compelling topics.

See More

Collapse bottom bar