Imagine you arrive on Madagascar with the first European settlers in 1500 and find yourself face to face with the largest bird that ever lived. The Elephant Bird was a flightless and extremely large bird, weighing in at close to a ton (400kg) and reaching heights of over 3m in adulthood. It inhabited Madagascar for over 60 million years until human colonisation of the island caused it to become extinct around the 17th century, sadly the bird was not adapted to such intense predation. Its reproductive rate would have also been reduced dramatically around this time as humans, and introduced rats and dogs, all preyed upon its eggs.
The remains of Elephant Bird skeletons and their eggs have been found across Madagascar, indicating that the bird was widespread across the island. However very few remain intact. Leeds City Museum is lucky enough to have an undamaged egg as part of its natural history collection.
Obviously such a giant bird produced a giant egg, a whole twenty-seven pounds of it to be precise. The Elephant Bird egg is technically the largest single-cell to have ever existed on Earth. It is even thought to be twice as big as the largest dinosaur egg ever found! Some eggs have a circumference of over metre with an estimated holding capacity of 7.5litres. It is 160 times larger than a chicken egg. Imagine dipping your toast soldiers in that!
Are you thinking about how you like your eggs?…..me too!
Posted by Clare but written and researched by Kim Jennings (biology intern, Spring 2010) who worked diligently on the wonderful herbarium and shell collections held at Leeds Museum Discovery Centre.