Teratornis

Teratornis
Scientific classification
Synonyms


Pleistogyps rex L. H. Miller, 1910
Merriam's Teratorn (Teratornis merriami) was a huge North American teratorn, with a wingspan of around 3.5 to 3.8 meters (11 to 12 feet), a wing area of 17.5 square meters, standing an estimated 75 cm tall and weighing about 15 kg. It was somewhat larger than the extant Andean Condor and nearly two times as heavy as the Californian Condor. A closely related species, the Incredible Teratorn, was about 40% larger and lived at an earlier time; it was formerly known as Teratornis incredibilis, but is distinct enough to be placed in its own genus, Aiolornis.

Physical characteristics

T. merriami is the best-known of the teratorns. A large number of fossil and subfossil bones, representing more than 100 individuals, have been found in locations in California, southern Nevada, Arizona, and Florida, though most are from the Californian La Brea Tar Pits. All remains but one Early Pleistocene partial skeleton from the Leisey Shell Pit near Charlotte Harbor, Florida (which may represent a different species or a subspecies) date from the Late Pleistocene, with the youngest remains dating from the Pleistocene-Holocene boundary.

The finger bones are fused as in all modern birds; however, part of the index finger forms a shelf which aided in bearing the load of long and stout primaries, which enabled the bird to utilize strong upcurrents. The legs were similar to an Andean Condor's, but stouter, and the feet were able to hold prey items for tearing off pieces, but not able to exert a very forceful grip such as in birds of prey. Its wing loading was not much larger than a Californian Condor's, and Merriam's Teratorn should have been able to take off by simply jumping and beating its wings under most circumstances. (Campbell & Tonni, 1983). Indeed, it seems to have been better-adapted for that than for utilizing a short run into the wind from an elevated location as condors do, as its legs are proportionally smaller and its stride less than in these (Fisher, 1945).

Ecology and extinction

Merriam's Teratorn generally lived in a manner similar to modern-day condors, although its larger bill suggests that it was a more active predator. Smaller prey up to the size of a small rabbit would probably be swallowed more or less whole, while carrion would have been fed on in a manner similar to condors or vultures. The large number of finds in the La Brea Tar Pits were usually considered to be from teratorns which were attracted by Pleistocene megafauna that became stuck in the viscous asphalt trying to drink from pools of water that gathered on the surface and died, with the teratorns subsequently falling victim to the sticky deposits too. Merriam's Teratorn probably played an important role in opening up the body cavities of carcasses for smaller birds like eagles and ravens which are also known to have frequented the locality, as mammalian predators, being unable to fly, could hardly reach most carcasses without getting mired in the asphalt themselves.

However, there were also true vultures present in the area at that time, and unlike them, Merriam's Teratorn was also well-adapted to hunt for smaller animals which are also known to have utilized the pools. Analysis of the skull and bill shapes suggests that fish may have constituted a major part of its diet (Hertel, 1995). Taking into account the strong legs, stout claws, and a gripping power not quite as developed as in eagles, this makes it rather likely that Merriam's Teratorn would have hunted for aquatic prey in the manner of an osprey, which also provides a neat explanation as to how such large numbers of powerful, well-flying birds could have become stuck in the asphalt.

The species probably became extinct as the climatic shifts at the end of the last ice age led to widespread ecological alterations and prey scarcity, exacerbated by human hunting and increasing influence on habitat; generally , most large land animals disappeared and the altered precipitation patterns seriously affected populations of aquatic vertebrates. Despite being a better hunter than the Californian Condor, it still was inferior as a predator of small prey to hawks and eagles. The higher population density and more flexible diet of the condor probably ensured that it survived, while Merriam's Teratorn did not. Recent isotopic studies suggest that the California Condor was able to survive the extinction of the megafauna because it also scavenged dead marine mammals off the Pacific Coast. The terratorn relied more heavily upon the carrion of land mammals and therefore could not survive their extinction.

Interaction with humans

T. merriami is the largest species of flying bird that was encountered alive by man. The initial reaction was probably one of awe, but as bones found in Amerindian middens show, the bird was not considered sacred enough not to be hunted. On the other hand, the species was probably large and possibly predatory enough to consider human infants food, albeit certainly not on a regular basis. After the species became extinct, its memory perhaps persisted to form a major foundation for the Thunderbird myths. When the largest flying bird ever seen alive by human beings was no more, it was transformed into a supernatural creature.

References

  • Campbell, Kenneth E. Jr. & Tonni, E. P. (1983): Size and locomotion in teratorns. Auk 100(2): 390-403 PDF fulltext
  • Fisher, Harvey I. (1945): Locomotion in the Fossil Vulture Teratornis. American Midland Naturalist 33(3): 725-742. doi:10.2307/2421186 (First page image)
  • Hertel, Fritz (1995): Ecomorphological indicators of feeding behavior in Recent and fossil raptors. Auk 112(4): 890-903. PDF fulltext
  • Miller, Loye H. (1909): Teratornis, a new avian genus from Rancho La Brea. University of California Publications, Bulletin of the Department of Geology 5: 305-317.
Scientific classification or biological classification is a method by which biologists group and categorize species of organisms. Scientific classification also can be called scientific taxonomy, but should be distinguished from folk taxonomy, which lacks scientific basis.
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In scientific nomenclature, synonyms are different scientific names used for a single taxon. Usage and terminology are different for zoology and botany.

Zoology

In zoological nomenclature, synonyms are different scientific names that pertain to the same taxon, for example
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North America is a continent [1] in the Earth's northern hemisphere and (chiefly) western hemisphere. It is bordered on the north by the Arctic Ocean, on the east by the North Atlantic Ocean, on the southeast by the Caribbean Sea, and on the south and west
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Teratornithidae
L. H. Miller, 1909

Teratorns were very large birds of prey who lived in North and South America from Miocene to Pleistocene. They were somewhat close to modern condors and as such, they are more closely related to storks rather than
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Vultur
Lesson, 1842

Species: V. gryphus

Binomial name
Vultur gryphus
(Linnaeus, 1758)

Synonyms
  • Vultur fossilis

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Gymnogyps
Lesson, 1842

Species: G. californianus

Binomial name
Gymnogyps californianus
(Shaw, 1797)


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Aiolornis
Campbell, Scott & Springer, 1999

Species: A. incredibilis

Binomial name
Aiolornis incredibilis
(Howard, 1952)

Synonyms

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For other uses of the term, see Fossil (disambiguation)


FOSSIL is a standard for allowing serial communication for telecommunications programs under the DOS operating system.
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Subfossil refers to remains whose fossilization process is not complete, either for lack of time or because the condition in which they were buried were not optimal for fossilization.
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La Brea Tar Pits (or Rancho La Brea Tar Pits) are a famous cluster of tar pits located in Hancock Park in the urban heart of Los Angeles, California, USA. Asphalt (colloquially termed tar, which in spanish is termed brea
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Early Pleistocene (also known as Lower Pleistocene, or Calabrian) is a subdivision of the Pleistocene Epoch of the Geologic time scale. The beginning of the stage is defined at 1.806 ± 0.005 Ma (million years ago).
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Charlotte Harbor, Florida
Location in Charlotte County and the state of Florida
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The Late Pleistocene (also known as Upper Pleistocene or the Tarantian) is a stage of the Pleistocene Epoch. The beginning of the stage is defined by the base of Eemian interglacial phase before final glacial episode of Pleistocene 126,000 ± 5,000 years ago.
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Pleistocene epoch (IPA: /'plaɪstəsi:n/) on the geologic timescale is the period from 1,808,000 to 11,550 years BP. The Pleistocene epoch had been intended to cover the world's recent period of repeated glaciations.
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The Holocene epoch is a geological period, which began approximately 11,550 calendar years BP (about 9600 BC) and continues to the present. The Holocene is part of the Neogene and Quaternary periods.
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flight feather refers to any of the long stiff feathers on the wing or tail of a bird; those on the wing are called remiges (singular remex) while those on the tail are called rectrices (singular rectrix).
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wing loading is the loaded weight of the aircraft divided by the area of the wing. It is broadly reflective of the aircraft's lift-to-mass ratio, which affects its rate of climb, load-carrying ability, and turn performance.
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Carrion refers to the carcass of a dead animal. Carrion is an important food source for large carnivores and omnivores in most ecosystems. Examples of carrion eaters, or scavengers, include hyenas, vultures, Tasmanian Devils, Bald Eagles, and Blue-tongued lizards.
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La Brea Tar Pits (or Rancho La Brea Tar Pits) are a famous cluster of tar pits located in Hancock Park in the urban heart of Los Angeles, California, USA. Asphalt (colloquially termed tar, which in spanish is termed brea
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Pleistocene megafauna is the set of species of large animals -- mammals, birds and reptiles -- that lived on Earth during the Pleistocene epoch and are now extinct. These species appear to have died off as humans expanded out of Africa and Eurasia, the only continents that still
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Asphalt
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Eagles are large birds of prey which mainly inhabit Eurasia and Africa. Outside this area, just two species (the Bald and Golden Eagles) are found in North America north of Mexico, with a few more species in Central and South America, and three in Australia.
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Corvus

Species

See text.
Raven is the common name given to the largest species of passerine birds in the genus Corvus. Corvids are also commonly referred to as 'crows' and other species in the same genus include jackdaws, and rooks.
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Mammalia
Linnaeus, 1758

Subclasses & Infraclasses
  • Subclass †Allotheria*
  • Subclass Prototheria
  • Subclass Theria

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Aegypiinae

Genera

See text.

Old World vultures belong to the family Accipitridae, which also includes eagles, buzzards, kites, and hawks.
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