Journey to Horseshoe Bend: In search of the elusive mihirungs
It is a fair observation that the Australian fossil record is meagre compared to that of all other continents. It’s not that we don’t have any worthwhile fossil deposits, but rather there has generally been a lesser collecting effort Down Under. And yet, we are still able to punch above our weight, especially in the world record sizebreaking arena! We have footprints of some of the largest dinosaurs that ever existed; near-complete skeletons of monster-sized amphibians; mega-drought death assemblages of the heaviest ever marsupials … and extensive fossil deposits of the largest and most spectacular birds that ever existed - the magnificent mihirungs.
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Mihrungs (Family Dromornithidae) are arguably the most enigmatic group of Australian birds; living or extinct. The first fossils of the group were discovered eroding out of the rich fossiliferous sediments of the Wellington Caves, New South Wales in the 1830s, but it wasn’t until the 1870s that the first species was described by the famous British anatomist Sir Richard Owen. Owen’s Dromornis australis (‘running bird’) was based solely on an isolated right femur that was recovered during the sinking of a well at Peak Downs in Queensland. There is no doubt that the running bird was a massive brute capable of moving at speeds of up to 20km/h, but like the majority of fossil species there is only so much one can tell from isolated specimens.
AAOD Journal Issue 7 (2009) – pages 50 to 55
By Dr Gilbert J Price
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